In 2013, we applied for a grant on behalf of the Sumner Park District (SPD) and were awarded the grant which would allow SPD to upgrade a community park. The proposed improvements included the extension of a new bike path and a restroom/shelter facility. The grant was administered through the Illinois Transportation Enhancement Program (ITEP). This was our second attempt applying for this grant on behalf of SPD and we were excited for our client that funds were finally secured on this project. The grant was officially awarded in 2013, and as the Project Manager for the team, we began design work later that same summer.
It takes a considerable amount of time for a project funded by ITEP to be permitted and ultimately constructed. Working closely with staff at IDOT District 2, Chastain prepared engineering plans and specifications for the bike path and the new building. These plans and specifications were reviewed and approved by IDOT and we were excited to finally be able to bid the project to qualified contractors at the end of 2015. However, the excitement didn’t last! Bids started coming in and they were higher than the estimates. We quickly realized there wasn’t enough grant money to complete the improvements.
When I was first getting started in my career, my dad, a civil engineer with more than 30 years of experience, once joked that all of the easy projects have already been done and all that was left for me was the hard ones. Some days, like the day the bids came back in way over budget and I’m wondering how in the world we are going to get this project done, I think back on his statement and something else he told me when I was first getting started… he said, “If it was easy, anyone would do it!”
After some collaboration with my great team of colleagues here at Chastain, we were able to provide SPD with what turned out to be good solutions to the problem. Our first solution was to split the project up into two projects and re-bid them each as a stand-alone project. We believed by having one general contractor responsible for both a building and a site project their bids included markup costs on subcontractors which explained the higher bids. By separating the projects into two we could hopefully avoid the higher markup costs.
The second solution we presented to our client was to request additional grant funds from IDOT. At no cost to our client and with the support of our great friends at IDOT District 2, we were successful in our efforts to secure additional grant funds for the project! Yay! Based on the bids we had received earlier, we were confident we had enough funding now to be able to award the projects to qualified contractors.
Project 1, the bike path project, was bid first and came in under budget. The project was awarded to a qualified contractor in the spring of 2016 and work was completed by the end of June. We were excited to have half of the improvements completed, but now it was time to bid Project 2, the restroom/shelter project. Bids were received late spring of 2016 and the low-bid contractor submitted a price that was right at budget. The project was awarded and we thought we finally had something to celebrate; until we received an email from IDOT a few weeks later.
There was a problem! The low-bid contractor neglected to submit paperwork that was required as part of the bidding process. Because this paperwork was not submitted by a deadline established as part of the bid requirements, IDOT considered the contractor “non-responsive” and SPD was not allowed to proceed with this contractor. The only options available to SPD was to 1) re-bid the project, which at the very least would mean the project would be delayed until 2017; 2) award the project to the second low bidder; or 3) SPD could walk away from the project. The problem with awarding the project to the second low bidder was his price was considerably higher than the low bidder’s price. SPD had no more funds available to use on this project and was unable to accept this other bid. Once again, we found ourselves stuck and in need of a solution to keep the project going.
My contact through the entire project was the President of SPD. He was mad and disappointed! How could he not be? After all the hard work put into this project, we were faced with more delays and possibly needing more money for the project. This is the point in which he seriously considered walking away from the project entirely. SPD was committed to a new building, and was thinking of working with a local contractor to build a substantially smaller and cheaper building. Re-bidding the project and further delaying the project wasn’t an option for SPD at this point. They were ready to move on.
I asked him to give me some time before he made any final decisions. I couldn’t stand the idea of SPD walking away from this grant funding when I knew how badly they needed it to complete the project they wanted. It was Hail Mary time! I knew the only way to convince SPD from not walking away from the project was to find funding, so they could award the project to the second low-bidder. I made a second request to IDOT for additional grant funding, and a week later, again with the support of great staff at IDOT District 2, we were notified our request had been approved and additional funding was coming for the project. SPD, thrilled with this unexpected turn of events, awarded the project to the second low-bidder and construction has started.
My dad ended up being right all along. There is no such thing as an easy project. Each project has unique challenges requiring “out-of-the-box” solutions and that’s what we do at Chastain & Associates. We never stop working for our clients. That mantra comes with challenges and a lot of hard work, but again, “If it was easy, anyone would do it.”