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Late change orders draw concern from council members

The Sunnyside City Council last night reluctantly approved funding for late change orders related to the South First Street construction project. They also approved a final acceptance resolution for the completion of the project.

Council members were concerned because some of the change orders dated back to June 2009. Also, there were questions from council because the changes cost about 20 percent of the overall project.

"It looks like someone dropped the ball," said Councilman Mike Farmer.

Public Works Director Jim Bridges said he would like to have had the approval for the change orders at an earlier date, but the process for receiving them needs to be reviewed.

"Some things were unforeseen," he said regarding the costs associated with many of the changes in the project.

Despite the specified amount of more than $447,600 in changes, Bridges pointed out the project was still under budget ($3.2 million).

He said some of the costs were out of his or the city's control because work on the project was also overseen by Washington state, which provided some of the funding for the project. There were contractors that are considered "a disadvantaged enterprise" and the city under state regulation had to provide the contractors direction.

The largest of the change orders, about $236,000, was the cement turn lane at the southeast corner of the South First Street and South Hill Road intersection.

Bridges said the change was made to prevent future repair costs to the city. He said asphalt softens in the heat. The intersection is part of the city's truck route and large trucks would cause damage to asphalt on the corner. As a result, the city elected to change the plans for the corner.

Also contributing to the added cost of the South First Street project was traffic control. Bridges said motorists were not obeying road blocks and signage for the project, so flagmen were added to the project to direct traffic. The original project bids did not include traffic control.

Council members questioned the lessons learned from the extensive change orders and Bridges said he believes the city must in the future write specifications for projects that are "tighter."

He explained, stating contractors not familiar with work specified for a project will have to meet the bid requirements before they can be hired.

"I think it's incumbent upon us to be aware of issues sooner," said Councilwoman Theresa Hancock, noting the city council members would like to be informed about costs associated with changes to a project earlier.

The change orders presented last night were presented in conjunction with the final acceptance resolution (project completion agreement).

Bridges said he has plans to review the process with City Manager Mark Gervasi in hopes of providing information regarding future project changes sooner.

After further discussion, the city council approved 5-1 the funds for the change orders and approved the project completion agreement. Farmer was the dissenting vote for both resolutions.

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