County OKs Berlin Library Board’s No-Bid Proposal

BERLIN — The Worcester County Commissioners agreed this week to skip competitive bidding for the Berlin library, as requested by the Worcester County Library Board of Trustees. However, the commissioners only approved an early “planning and pre-design proposal,” meaning if they aren’t happy with the quality of work for the first phase they aren’t locked in for the duration of the project.

Typically, for a large construction project such as a new Berlin library the county would hold competitive bidding. However, the library Board of Trustees asked last month that the commission skip the bidding and immediately hire architect Jeff Schoellkopf, a prospect that some commissioners were concerned about.

This week Mark Thomas, the director of the board of trustees, returned to the commission with an alternative proposal that still skips bidding but only contracts with Schoellkopf for the first phase, essentially a trial period.

“Rather than come back to you with guesses or estimates or something that we didn’t really feel solid about, we took another approach and we asked the architect to put together a more restricted proposal that lets us get going on the design,” Thomas said.

The proposal will cover planning, team selection and pre-design work at a cost not to exceed $39,000 plus reimbursable expenses. The contract encompasses the $25,000 estimated for design fees plus the $14,000 in engineering fees.

“This is a scaled-back proposal that allows us to get started, answers some of the questions that you and we had, frankly,” Thomas told the commission.

Thomas framed the proposal as a win-win allowing the library board a chance to move forward with an architect it trusts while leaving room for the county to break away if the commission decides that it doesn’t like the direction things are headed. Over the fall, if either the commission or the board is unsatisfied, Thomas underlined that there is “an escape route” and that the second phase could be contracted elsewhere if need be.

“It gives [Schoellkopf] an opportunity to prove himself,” agreed county attorney Sonny Bloxom. “If he does prove himself, then he gets to go to the next step.”

By the time the planning and pre-design is wrapped up, Thomas expects to have a better idea of what the second phase should look like. The county approved the proposal unanimously.