Manchester 'learns' from Chowder House over-budget renovations

MICHAEL CRONIN/Staff photo/Despite going $54,382.85 over budget, the project to renovate Manchester's Chowder House on Tuck's Point still cost les than the next lowest bid, the town manager said.

MANCHESTER — Town Administrator Gregory Federspiel said there were "lessons learned" after the recent Chowder House renovation project at Tucker's Point went over-budget.

The project was estimated to cost $280,000 once it began in October 2017. By the time it was finished in May 2018, the town had spent an additional $54,382.85 on change orders. 

Concerns on spending were brought up by the Manchester Community Preservation Committee, the funding source on the project, and members of the community. One resident sent a letter to selectmen about problems he found with certain line items in the contract with CMA Engineers, the project's design managers.

In response, the town hired Bobrek Engineering & Construction for a post-construction administrative peer review. The report concluded "some of (the project's shortfalls) could have been included in the base design and therefore captured and included in the competitive bidding process."

Federspiel admits that in hindsight the designing phase of the project could have been more thorough.

"We were experiencing a lot of pressure to get the project done in May," he said. "We wanted to get in the rental commitments we made for that month."

The Chowder House, located on Tuck's Point, is typically rented out by private parties for weddings, family reunions and barbecues, according to Federspiel.

Rushing the design phase had its consequences. A change order for $46,125 arrived when JD Works, the construction firm hired for the project, uncovered a host of structural problems with the deck's bracing and structural framing.

Another $4,305.25 was spent to refurbish a post and set of stairs. The Bobrek report states the stairs were not up to Massachusetts Building Code, and "a thorough existing conditions code review by the design consultant during the design process, and/or a meeting with the building inspector at the project site would have likely uncovered these issues and allowed for the costs to be competitively bid during the procurement process."

Federspiel estimates the town paid a 20 percent to 30 percent premium for both change orders. 

"You'll always have to pay a premium once a surprise is uncovered," he said. "In an ideal world, that would have been found before construction was started."

Another concern brought up by the Bobrek report was that "multiple bid items (were) written in as N/A, but the design consultant's review letter observed to have different values for many bid items. ... One example item is the window shutter hardware where the contractor submitted a cost of about $14,000 for a nearly $450 item."

Federspiel said this was due to CMA grouping certain line items into one lump sum. He admits the bid was not as in-depth in regards to bid item specifics.

"Both our head engineer and CMA could have done a better job dotting the 'I's,'" he said. "We could have also spent more time scrutinizing the bid documents and overseeing the project as it went along."

Regardless, Federspiel said the additional $54,382.85 spent on the project was less than the other bid presented to the town: about $98,000 more than CMA's initial underestimate, according to the Bobrek report. 

"In the last five years, we spent $15 million on projects which were all managed well," he said. "This Chowder House project shows there's always room for improvement." 

Michael Cronin may be contacted at 978-675-2708, or