Last fall, during one of many trips down Commonwealth Avenue, I noticed the town funded construction of “Gerow Park” appeared to have come to a halt. Construction vehicles and workers were nowhere to be found but the project wasn’t completed. The new post and beam pavilion’s metal roof was piled in the parking lot and the parking lot itself only had the binder coat with piles of gravel and stone left on it. It also appeared that many of the new plantings were dead. The November 18, 2022 Concord Bridge article included statements made by the Town Manager as to why the project wasn’t finished.
I decided to make several public record requests for further information as I have some limited public construction experience from assisting on two large construction projects on the Public Safety Building during my 30-year tenure on the Concord Police Department. A problem did ensue with one of the contractors on one of the projects I was involved in. However, the Performance Bond required by the town solved the issue with no added cost to the town or any delay in the project.
I learned the following from my records request: The Town Manager is ultimately responsible for procurement, but the Finance Director has the delegated responsibility. Town policy dictates the Budget and Purchasing (B&P) director also has to sign off on purchase orders of $35,000 or more, but it appears the B&P director was not involved in this project. The actual signed contracts with the two major contractors on the Gerow project dictate performance bonds of at least 50% of the contract price are required. State law also requires a performance bond on the “vertical” construction of the over $400,000 bathroom included in this project. No performance bonds exist on this entire project as required by the contract and state law. Performance bonds are standard protection for the owner, in this case, the taxpayers. Why wasn’t policy and law followed here?
The records I received indicate that no required inspections of the septic system construction occurred. These inspections are required by state law and town regulations. I requested a copy of an occupancy permit a few weeks ago for the new bathroom and, oddly enough, one was issued the same week I requested it. I have sent a letter objecting to this occupancy permit as law and regulations indicate it can’t be issued without a certificate of compliance, system certification and an “as built plan” on the septic system. My record requests indicate none of these exist.
If this septic system fails, who is responsible? Can the town disregard the rules it requires of its residents? I think not. There are some other oddities from the records I requested but I am limited in the length of this column. The records I received indicate there is no money left to finish the project within the project budget and it appears the contractor hasn’t been paid for the work finished to date. Maybe there is a legitimate dispute between the parties, but no performance bond exists to fall back on. This may prove to be a very expensive mistake.
I believe when one raises their hand at a Town Meeting vote, votes at the ballot box or pays their property taxes, there is an expectation the town will manage using all best practices, as well as follow the law, policies and regulations of the town/state. I am of the understanding that this multi-million dollar project is now in the hands of the lawyers. In this case, it appears mismanagement will have a high cost.
There was a vote included in this month’s Town Meeting asking to add an additional $550,000 of Community Preservation Act money to the Gerow/Warners Pond project. We are also about to embark on the most expensively funded taxpayer project in Concord’s history, the new middle school. If the recent past is any indication of the future, there are some real concerns for Concord citizens.