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Selectmen will decide on whether to waive bidding policy for library architect

January 09, 2019
MEREDITH — The selectmen will vote at an upcoming meeting to decide whether the library can stay with its current chosen architect and not go through a competitive bidding process, as required by town policy.

The option was discussed at Monday's workshop meeting after the library presented a draft warrant article for the design of a new addition and renovation.

In October of 2017, the Joint Library-Select Board Feasibility Advisory Committee presented its recommendation for a design with the services of architects Samyn D'Elia. Library Trustee Betty Strader said later that the trustees looked at these designs and decided that a number of elements still didn't meet their needs. After discussions the trustees went with a design by architect Ron Lamarre of Lavalee Brensinger. Town Manager Phil Warren raised the issue that Lamarre's hiring was not done along the town's policy of having these services competitively bid, though the trustees have said that they are the ones who make decisions like this for the library.

On Monday Strader presented a draft warrant article for $400,000 for the design of an addition and renovation at the library for town meeting in March. This article will be done consistent with the town's competitive bidding policy: if the article is approved the library will put out a Request for Qualifications (RFQ) for an architect to do the design.

The trustees to compile a list of criteria that must be met for the RFQ and then work with Lamarre and the town to see what submitted requests bets meet their criteria. Strader said it is feasible that they could get another architect to do the building design. Warren said it is something that happens commonly, especially in other jurisdictions mostly outside of New Hampshire where the architectural firm who did the feasibility study is precluded from being the ones who do the final design.

Strader also asked if it would be okay to add in language that the trustees will select the final architect for the design, saying there is still confusion in the community who has the authority to choose the final architect. Warren said he agreed, though overall the architect needs to be competitively bid to stay consistent with town policies.

"I must admit, it seems like a sham to me," said Selectman Ray Moritz.

He said it didn't make sense that they went through a long process to get a design they liked and now another architect could replace all of that. He said he understands the town policy on competitive bidding, but said it's highly likely the trustees will still choose the architect they already have.

"I'll gladly give you 10-to-one odds on what the pick is after this thing comes in, anyone who wants to wager," Moritz said.

Warren said the town manager or the selectmen do have the option of waiving any aspects of the town's purchasing policy. he said he does have a concern about doing this since the architect the library is using was never chosen through a competitive bid.

"Seems to me a lot more direct and honest to our taxpayers than what we're doing," Moritz said.

Selectman Mike Pelczar agreed with waiving he policy, saying they have already had a process that's lead to this point and the library is run by a different governing body.

"In my eyes, as long as we get a competitive bid on the project itself, if they're comfortable with the architect I personally agree with Ray; this is a more up front process. Why stick another architect through it? We've already gone through this phase at least once. I'm more worried about the bid price, the cost, and getting the right building in place."

Selectman Nate Torr said, however, they should stay with the process the town has in place.

Warren said the board can vote on waiving the policy, a discussion that will have to be put on the agenda for the next meeting on Jan. 28.

Strader said they are aiming to put the design on the 2019 warrant and the construction on the warrant for 2020. This will give the trustees plenty of time to get their fundraising in line, which has been hindered by the government shutdown and the resulting delay in getting their tax exemption letter. Construction on the library should last around a year.

Warren said this schedule will not put the library project in conflict with the Public Works building project. He said if the article is approved at town meeting, it's likely construction on the Public Works facility will begin in early 2020 while the major construction activity for the library project will be closer to July of 2020 after the major project activity on the Public Works building has waned.

AJ Coleman
Varney Smith
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