NORTH BENNINGTON -- The North Bennington Board of Trustees received an update on the North Bennington Fire Department’s project to replace the stairs at the backside of their building, which were described as "a huge liability" by board president Matthew Patterson.
The project is estimated to cost $40,000, and will come out of the firefighters’ reserve fund, which is part of the village budget. Ed Harrington, the fire department’s representative at the meeting said that the initial estimated cost was $45,000, but the fire department managed to lower that figure, in part by choosing to utilize the road crew for part of the process rather than contracting out.
"Should any expense exceed what is expected, I’d say that will have to come from the fire department, not the village," said Patterson, "We just don’t have the money."
The fire department has worked with local architect Tim Smith, who drafted some initial plans and put the project out to bid. However, highway superintendent Norm LeBlanc expressed concern that both that the fire department’s plan included using highway department resources for a portion of the project and that there had not, to his knowledge, been a public bidding process, which is required for all projects taken on by the village. The fire department had planned to present the board with a finalized bid next week.
"We didn’t go out to bid last time. The same guy handled it, and it got done," said Harrington of Smith.
He also expressed concern that this project has been effectively on hold for the last five years, after previous boards recommended that the fire department put it on hold, because they would soon be funding the installation of an elevator. That funding never materialized.
"There’s been this culture," said Patterson, "that that building is the fire department’s, and they have a budget to figure all that out. But when push comes to shove, when the rubber hits the road, it’s our building." Patterson also expressed concern about the lack of a publicized bidding process, and said, "The only way I’d be comfortable for this to go forward as is would be if it was paid for with non-public money."
"We both know that isn’t going to happen," said Harrington.
"It does belong to the Village, and it’s our responsibility," said board member David Monks, "However, we can’t do this without a public bid. It’s illegal."
Board member Janice Lerrigo suggested sitting down with fire chief Edward Myers and Smith and determining exactly what has been done on the project so far. "If [a public bid] wasn’t done, we could look at what needs to be done to bring it back into compliance," she said.
Board member Bill Scully agreed, saying, "I want to do whatever it takes to move this project forward." The board agreed to reach out to Myers and Smith and put together a meeting to gather more information.
Derek Carson can be reached for comment at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @DerekCarsonBB