Delay in Flynn pool bid opening criticized

May 11—WATERTOWN — Last week's bid opening for the new Flynn pool was delayed for two weeks amid several vendors having numerous questions about the documents.

The bid opening for the William J. Flynn Municipal Swimming Pool at the North Elementary School will now be held at 2 p.m. Thursday. It had been scheduled for May 4.

In March, consultant C&S Companies, the Syracuse firm handling engineering for the new pool, projected that it will have a total cost of about $3.2 million.

In explaining the reason for holding off the bid, city purchaser Tina Bartlett-Bearup said the city decided to delay it for two weeks after vendors expressed they needed more time to "sort out" their bids.

In all, five vendors brought up a total of 22 questions about the bid documents in the days leading up to the bid opening, so the city determined it was best to give companies more time to work on it, she said.

It was better to hold off so the city didn't end up with "wild bids" that would later lead to "major change orders," she explained.

To clarify the bid documents, the city attached four addendums to the original documents that answered the vendors' questions.

By delaying it, the city could get end up getting some good bids for the project that Ms. Bartlett-Bearup described as "very technical and complicated." In a Facebook posting three days ago, however, Councilman Cliff G. Olney accused City Manager Kenneth A. Mix of "sandbagging" the project by delaying the bid opening, so that it would be more difficult to find a contractor.

Councilman Olney said Thursday he's worried that the delay will also hold up getting a contractor on board and then cause construction to be put off until next construction season.

"It's a pool. It's just a pool. C&S is the same company that did the Thompson Park pool," he said referring to designing the $3.2 million pool park three years ago at the city-owned park.

City Councilman Patrick J. Hickey also questioned why the bid process wasn't handled more smoothly, criticizing city staff for the amount of time that it has taken to get the bid process to this point.

"Delay, delay, delay," Councilman Hickey said.

In response, Mr. Mix said the city would not have gotten any companies to bid on the project if the bid opening was held on May 4. None of them would have been ready to submit one, he said.

And if that happened, he and his staff would have been blamed for causing it, Mr. Mix said, stressing council members have been kept up to date about the project's progress throughout its planning stages.

Councilman Olney also was upset that city staff didn't take his recommendation to provide bid information to Aquatic Development Group, an Albany engineering firm that's been involved in pool projects for Six Flags amusement parks.

He's talked to the firm in the past about the project. The councilman has been criticized in the past for lobbying potential contractors.

As city manager, Mr. Mix said he doesn't get involved in the bidding process, so he didn't know anything about the Albany firm, he said.

To drum up interest, the city contacted 46 vendors about the pool project, Ms. Bartlett-Bearup said.

The city also got the word out by notifying four "plan holders," construction associations that obtain bid material and then sends it out to its members so they know about a project and can bid on it.

Depending on what happens with bids, construction is scheduled to start this summer and take about 18 months to complete, with the hopes of opening the pool in 2024.

The Flynn pool was closed three years ago after it was learned that major repairs were needed. In addition to the Thompson Park pool, the city operates a pool at the Alex T. Duffy Fairgrounds.

The L-shaped Flynn pool would feature a zero-grade entrance for people with wheelchairs, be 25 yards long and 8 feet deep, and have four lanes for lap swimming.

A splash pad feature also would be part of the project. The bathhouse also would feature restrooms that have access from the exterior.