Based on last night's presentation at the Berkeley Heights Township Council Meeting, the municipal building project is officially a mess.
From the way this municipal building project was bid and negotiated, in my opinion, anyone could have, and did predict that this was going to happen. We overextended ourselves and the planning was too faith based, hoping everything would just turn out perfectly. Anyone who made these terrible mistakes, clearly failed in their fiduciary duty to the residents and should seriously consider resigning.
During last night’s Berkeley Heights township council meeting it became clear that we are on the brink of a lawsuit between Berkeley Heights and the Municipal Building developer, EPIC. The developer seems to require yet another $2,000,000 to complete the project.
In order to pay for that our town would need to bond for yet another $2,000,000 in the next council meeting. The alternative seemed to be to delay the demolition of the current municipal building and bond for $2,000,000 or MORE in the 2021 budget. Regardless of if you thought the township needed this building or not, we can all agree that this project is officially a mess. The developers at this time seem to be non-responsive to legal requests.
In addition, the project was supposed to be done on May 1 and now the developer is looking at the end of Dec to complete both phases of the project. This delay also means additional very costly administration fees, paying the project managers, the architect etc. This is on top of the $2M that is being requested.
In my opinion, this project was set up to fail from the beginning. Where the municipal project went wrong is when the estimate for the building went from $19 million to $26 million yet the overall budget was not adjusted at all. At that point contingencies were slashed and parts of the project were pushed into a phase 2 to shoehorn the project into the budget. Rather than reduce the scope and/or the size of this massive building, they elected to cut the recommended contingency to a minimum, most likely knowing that once the project was ongoing they could come back and ask the residents for additional funding, which they are doing now.
Even from the beginning the municipal building was more of a wishlist than a realistic project. The scope could have been cut during many stages of the project and certainly should have been cut at the point when the quotes came back millions above expectations, at $26M.
Also, bypassing the normal bidding process reduced our bid pool. Because of the utilization of the redevelopment law, purposefully complex Guaranteed Maximum Price and pre-filtering out developers, we had minimal bids. The subcommittee that led the bidding process was made up of one elected representative (member of the council) along with a committee of “experts”, most of which financially benefited from this massive project. In my opinion, the project was set up to fail from the start while the council continuously assured the residents that all is under control.
Also, it comes to light that the Guaranteed Maximum Price Contract bids were done on 80% documentation. So now there are many change orders that one would think would be included in the contract such as electrical and plumbing change orders, where one would have assumed these items would have been defined in the building specs.
In a rush to push this massive project through someone clearly dropped the ball and now Berkeley Heights businesses and residents have to overpay for something they arguably didn’t want in the first place.
What has become clear is that the scope of this project and the process taken has been a mistake from the beginning. Our council has ignored the residents and listened to conflicted experts. The council members clearly do not have the expertise to negotiate a project of such size or to oversee this project. Many on the council continue to choose to follow these experts’ advice. However, the same thinking that got us into this mess is unlikely to get us out of it. The time is now that the council members that have been at the heart of this problem should resign to allow new voices to be heard and a new path to be taken with this project and other major issues.