City begins looking for ways to do more in-house construction

By: 
Chad C. Knudson
Sunday, November 17, 2019
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As a major infrastructure project wraps up on Meade Avenue, city officials say they may need to try a new approach to upgrades in the future.

“We borrowed out five years into the future and then had to get permission to borrow 10 years,” Public Works Director Jack Rice said during a City Finance, Utilities, Property and Recreation Committee meeting Wednesday. “It was some pretty creative financing.”

The project saw the replacement of water and sewer lines, as well as new curb and gutter and repaving along seven blocks.

Director of Operations Kevin Dorwart said he and Rice have been thinking about ways to chip away at infrastructure without relying on major projects like the one on Meade Avenue.

Their idea is to form a “summer construction crew” comprised of existing city employees. The crew would spend the construction season dedicated to infrastructure construction projects.

The goal would be to tackle small infrastructure replacement projects while saving money by not having to bid out to thirdparty contractors.

Rice said there is a need to get projects done, even with limited funds.

“We have 40 miles of water main. If we replace a mile a year, it would take 40 years,” he said. He added that many of those lines are over 100 years old.

Dorwart said the idea started to form after an ad hoc city crew replaced a sewer main along Maple Avenue in Hillcrest a couple of years ago.

During an interview Thursday, Rice said hiring contractors to replace a block of water and sewer costs in excess of $100,000, while the city was able to do the Maple project for about $30,000.

While committee members agreed the concept sounded solid, Dorwart said many details remain to work out.

“We’d probably have to have discussions with the unions,” he said. “There could be some differences in wages.”

In addition, he said whether additional seasonal help would be required to backfill for those on the construction crew and how much equipment rental would be necessary are issues still to be determined.

He also pointed out that any projects undertaken by a city crew would require engineering services and approval from the Montana Department of Environmental Quality.

“The engineering on Maple was about $9,000,” he said. “It is still a big savings.”

After tossing the idea around for a couple of years, Dorwart said he and Rice were looking to the council on how to proceed.

“If you think it is worth pursuing we will put a more formal plan together,” Dorwart said.

Councilman Gerald Reichert endorsed the idea and used a paving project undertaken by city employees on a block of North River Avenue as an example.

“Even without a paving machine, they did a heck of a job,” he said. “They should be commended. I don’t know how long it will last, but it looks great.”

Rice said the crew made do with a grader and a roller and that if chip sealed the cost-effective fix should last 10-15 years.

For his part, Councilman Rhett Coon said the city shouldn’t shy away from renting equipment to complete a job.

“Anymore that’s what most contractors do. Actual ownerhip is very small,” he said. “Then they mark up the rental, so we’d still save money.” The next meeting of the Glendive City Council is Tuesday, Nov. 19 at 7 p.m.

Brendan Heidner also contributed to this reporting.

Reach Chad C. Knudson at rrpub@rangerreview.com.

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