Contractors, Commissioners clash over mill building demolition

Charlie Denison

Lewistown contractor Marv Debuff expressed his concerns on the City’s decision to solicit a bid from Century to demolish the mill building without opening it up to other contractors.  

Photo by Charlie Denison

Driving down East Main Street last week, residents of Lewistown all got a glimpse of the highly anticipated demolition of the mill building, also known as the old Gamble Robinson Warehouse. The demolition is the first step toward redevelopment of the property, including the proposed Creekside Marketplace and Pavilion.

Although the building’s demise was expected, it came as a surprise to Duane Otto of Do All Construction.

“I was offered to do the job if somebody didn’t show up,” Otto said. “I was told to do it after the Chokecherry Festival… then a few days later I see the building being torn down. I was kind of shocked.”

Otto said he was asked by City Manager Holly Phelps to demolish the building for a certain cost. He said he could do it.

“The next thing I know Century Construction was working on it,” he said.

“I asked him to put a bid in,” Phelps said.

“It wasn’t really a bid,” Otto said. “I was asked if I could do it for this amount of money – which was a large amount of money. My company could have demolished it for a lot less than the number I was given.”

Otto said he was asked to demolish the building for $65,000.

Commission Chair Dave Byerly was quick to respond, taking some of the responsibility himself, admitting the commission wanted to “get the ball rolling” as quickly as possible in large part because of overwhelming support from the community for the project.

That’s when Century’s bid came in.

 “We had a very unique, time-sensitive offer to do $150,000 to $250,000 worth of work for $70,000 to $75,000,” Byerly said. “For the taxpayers, for all the people donating to this project, this seemed like a good deal.”

Contacted after the meeting, Century Director of Business Development Kevin Myhre said Century simply submitted a proposal and the City accepted it.

 “Century was donating their time,” Myhre said. “There was no profit and no overhead. We had some rented equipment and hourly costs for our workers, but other than that it was donation.”

During an interview Tuesday, Century CEO Tim Robertson added, “Century was looking to make an in-kind contribution to move this project forward. That’s what we did.”

As to why other bids weren’t solicited, Byerly said it never occurred to Byerly that someone could beat Century’s bid to do this work.

Local contractor Marv Debuff of D & D Excavation, however, said this isn’t a complicated job, and he would have liked an opportunity to have participated in the bid process..

“I can put down on paper what this job requires pretty fast: two excavators, a water truck, seven guys, eight days,” he said. “It’s not rocket science.”

But before he knew it, Debuff said the job was done.

“Demolition of the feed mill was started and done practically before anyone knew anything about it,” he said. “[Contractors] don’t feel very good about this and we were wondering if you could make us feel better about it.”

Ray Besel of Besel Construction agreed.

“Why wasn’t this advertised for bid?” he asked.

Phelps responded.

“Our purchasing policy followed state law on what’s required for the bidding process,” she said. “If the bidding was over $80,000, it would require a formalized bid with a public notice and advertisement. If a bid is between $16,000 and $80,000, we solicit bids, and that’s what we did.”

Phelps said the work involved for the project is estimated at $35,000, which will be paid for using grant money.

Byerly said Century’s bid was quite a deal, as an engineering firm told the City the total value of the work was around $150,000 and $250,000.

Some contractors begged to differ on this estimate.

“If you ended up getting the project done for $35,000, I’d say you got a fair deal,” Debuff said, “but if somebody gave you the OK do it for $75,000, somebody got burnt.”

The $40,000 spread did not sit well with contractors, especially Tom St. John.

“You’ve got $40,000 hanging out there,” he said. “All these guys sitting here would give you a firm number on this thing.”

Debuff said he didn’t come to upset anyone, but he didn’t like the way this was done, nor did his colleagues, and he wanted to make sure their voices were heard.

“This is a silly way to get something done, and right in front of everybody,” he said.

Byerly said he understood the concerns

“You probably are right,” he told the contractors. “In a perfect world, we should have said ‘this is the work we have, give us your bid.’ This struck me as a really good deal for the community. If I was wrong, then I was wrong, but this struck me as a really good deal. Moving forward we’ll do this differently and make sure there are no questions.”

“Going forward I’d like to see public notices in the paper so people know what’s going on,” Besel said.

“I hear you loud and clear,” said Byerly. “Going forward we want to work together.”

The Creekside Marketplace and Pavilion project is only beginning, Phelps reminded those in attendance. She encouraged contractors to get involved and sign up through Snowy Mountain Development Corporation if they are interested in working on it.

“We will definitely get hold of people interested in working on the project,” she said.


Other Business

• Commissioners unanimously approved a declaration stating that Snowy Mountain Development Corporation put together an Environmental Assessment on the Creekside Marketplace and Pavilion project. The environmental checklist determined there is “no significant environmental impact,” meaning “no Environmental Impact Statement” is required.”

• Commissioners approved the submission of a Main Street Grant for the Creekside dining patio. This includes railing, furnishing, picnic tables and potentially some electrical on the patio. The City hopes for a grant of around $20,000 to be used toward this effort.

• Commissioners approved a tourism grant for restrooms at Creekside Marketplace and Pavilion. The match on the grant is $50,000 and Tax Increment Financing money will be used to fund the match.

• Commissioners approved a $45,636.50 tax loan to go toward a Special Improvement District on the Riverdale Sewer Project.





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