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Columbus takes engineer to task over possible $50k change order

Columbus Town Council told W.K. Dickson engineer Brian Tripp last week very firmly that it is not pleased with a mistake discovered that could add up to $50,000 to the wastewater treatment plant rehabilitation project budget.

Council met Thursday, Aug. 15 and continuously questioned Tripp over who is responsible for the mistake.

When the town discovered it was over expected costs on the projects, some elements were taken out of the project then some others were put back in, but an electrical element was inadvertently taken out and never put back in.

Tripp reviewed approximately $4,000 worth of change orders council need to approve then announced another big one was coming.

“We have a large one coming in the neighborhood of $40-$50,000,” Tripp said.

He explained that part of the whole project was to replace the electrical, which has for years been covered under an awning. The town needs to connect the aerators to the new electrical and that wasn’t accounted for in the original bid, Tripp said.

“How did that get missed,” first asked Columbus Mayor Eric McIntyre.

“I wish I had a good answer for you,” Tripp responded.

Tripp said the project was over budget so engineers had to take a lot out and that item was inadvertently taken out.

Councilwoman Ernie Kan said this is the third month of the project and the second change order already and the town paid top engineers. She said she understands things happen in construction but questioned why some of it doesn’t fall back on the engineers.

Councilwoman Margaret Metcalf asked who should have caught the mistake.

Tripp responded that the other side of it is they can leave things as they are.

“That’s not what I’m asking,” Metcalf said.

Tripp said the contractors, W.K. Dickson and the town should have caught the mistake.

“That’s why we pay you all,” Metcalf said. “If the town had to spot check everything why would we be paying you?”

Tripp said if the electrical wasn’t taken out by accident the town would still be paying for it, either on the front end of the project or now, because it’s part of the construction project.

Councilman Richard Hall said the town asked specifically for that to be part of the project.

“So where did it get lost, who lost it and they ought to be paying for it,” Hall said. “That’s my opinion.”

Kan said she understands either way the town has to pay for it but is concerned when the town pays top engineers that all these change orders are necessary.

Metcalf said the town paid the engineer to make sure things like this didn’t happen.

“We keep on having to pay $50,000 here, $30,000 there, whatever it’s going to be,” Metcalf said, “it makes me wonder if everything else is going to be ok.

Tripp said he is sorry to hear that council is upset, but his firm stands by their design of the project.

McIntyre said he understands some of the smaller, unknown change orders, such as the ones council approved on Thursday. One of the change orders was to increase a current pipe size of 8-inches to 10-inches due to that being needed for peak flows and another change order was raising the building floor two feet after discovering through recent rains it floods. McIntyre said what he doesn’t understand is how missed electrical is the contractors fault since the contractor builds off the engineer’s design.

“I will agree the cost is going to be the same whether you take it out of your right pocket or your left,” said McIntyre.

McIntyre continued to say he thinks there was a mistake made and it looks bad because of the amount of money. He suggested if that was missed that Tripp and his firm take a look at the project again to make sure nothing else was missed. McIntyre said it’s hard to explain to residents why the town will have to pay for that now.

“It looks awful bad to have to pay for it now,” McIntyre said. “And I’m sure this council is going to get a lot of questions about that, and it’s actually put us in a spot where we shouldn’t have to answer that question.”

Council agreed to direct Tripp to review the project again to ensure there are no more major problems.

Tripp said he is disturbed about the conversation.

“I’m disturbed because I’ve lost the confidence of this council,” Tripp said. “I’m personally upset that I’ve dissatisfied this council. I hope that I can make amends and address your concerns.”

Columbus took out a $3 million (no interest) state loan to pay for the project along with an additional $43,109 the town is paying out of its budget over that loan, Tripp explained. Columbus also budgeted an additional $122,297 for the project to cover a five percent contingency. So far, with the approximate $4,000 in change orders approved last week, the town has spent approximately $8,000 of the contingency budget, leaving the town with approximately $114,000 left in its change order allowance.

The project is scheduled to be complete next April, but with heavy rains this summer Tripp cautioned that the completion date could be later.