S. Bethany police project gets sky-high bids

Construction costs are already vexing the proposed expansion of the South Bethany Police Department building, and the project has barely been approved.

The Town opened construction bids recently, only to find that the base bids were around $225,000, which is about $70,000 more than they had expected.

The town council was shocked to receive three base bids ranging from $224,900 to $247,000, plus an average of $53,000 for additional alternatives, such as a conference room that would actually hold an anticipated number of staff and guests, shower/locker room, file room and further 2-foot building extension.

The base project would get the police department what it needs, said Police Chief Troy Crowson, but it’s way over the anticipated budget.

The council had hoped for a $154,000 base cost, as estimated by an architect with help from an actual construction company (which later refused to bid, although they would have likely bid around the same level as everyone else, officials noted). With engineering, construction and contingency costs, the council had hoped for a total budget of $232,000, not a base price of that amount.

Once again, council members suggested reusing the space to fit the current needs. But there isn’t room, Crowson and the architect had said. They need more space, not for employees’ comfort, but for the many uses a police department has: evidence storage, detainee processing, weapons storage and more. South Bethany risks a lawsuit, officials said, knowing the existing building’s deficiencies regarding having detainees too close to each other, to officer desks, to evidence and the general public.

Among talk of cutting corners, “We’re doing the same thing as we did in 2008 … spend a dime to save a nickel,” Crowson said. “I don’t think you’ll be able to repurpose the space to serve all the functions. … If there was a space to repurpose, we would have approached council.”

The current police station was built to a lesser standard than originally designed because of higher-than-expected costs.

When he became chief in 2014, one of Crowson’s assignments was to research building options. The proposal included a break room, processing room, conference room and private office. More importantly, it would eliminate the current “multipurpose room” that ineffectively serves as an armory/kitchen/locker room.

This latest design just included the important basics, not the “Cadillac” version, Mayor Pat Voveris said.

The council rejected all three bids.

They agreed to meet with the same architect — who Voveris said was also stunned by the bids — to brainstorm a path forward. The council will have to decide whether to leave the station as it, fix it piecemeal, or buck up and decide how to pay for the project. Around $30,000 has already been invested in plans and engineering.

Policing is expensive by nature. It’s usually a major chunk of any town budget, especially if people want 24-hour coverage in their little towns.

Once again, the council asked about borrowing neighboring police buildings for detainee processing. Yes, police departments share resources sometimes, but Crowson said he doesn’t want to wear out their welcome.

Fenwick Island and Ocean View both reduced their liability issues by building new police stations in the past few years. Millville is finishing a building for the Delaware State Police to use, since the DSP patrols the town in lieu of it having its own police department.

Town hall entrance doubles as a Slip ’N Slide

Guests to town hall should watch their step. The new decking is too slippery for the stairs and ramp.

Since its installation in early spring, the new decking has racked up many complaints. According to Code Enforcement Constable Joe Hinks, the material is too slippery, the joists were installed incorrectly to handle the building weight, and the workmanship is shoddy.

Although the contractor suggested adding more joists to improve the strength, Hinks said they still won’t meet manufacturer specifications.

“We’re not sure the warranty will hold up,” said Town Manager Maureen Hartman. “Two of our employees slipped on the deck this morning.”

The decking is made from wood fiber and recycled materials, with a thin layer of PVC on top, so the council hesitated to attach adhesive texture strips or paint it with textured paint.

The situation was further complicated by the original project request. The project was not put out to bid, so there isn’t a detailed project specification. Although the council had budgeted the project, they did not approve the final $19,000 payment. Instead, the previous town manager made all the arrangements, hired the company and may have approved the materials.

When Hartman became town manager on May 8, she found some paperwork and asked Hinks to inspect the project. He found that the joists were anchored every 16 inches, instead of every 12 inches (contrary to manufacturer recommendations), and that the overall workmanship was lacking. Moreover, the material appears to be residential grade, not commercial grade.

Meanwhile, the public and staff have been slipping on the deck since at least March, in the rain and even in high-humidity conditions. The council also discussed a temporary fix to make it safer.

“In reality, the representative should not have accepted the job” and advised that the Town’s desires weren’t structurally feasible, Hinks said. “I would think it would behoove the vendor to follow manufacturer specifications.”

The council said they will not accept a solution with the additional joists. They want a new deck that is properly installed, in accordance with manufacturer standards.

After the meeting, town staff were busy arranging non-slip rubber mats outdoors.