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It’s ‘chill’ time for Friendly House project

BELLEVILLE –

The township’s Friendly House project is back on track.

About two weeks ago Township Manager Kevin Esposito issued a stop work order on the $585,000 construction job in response to certain “concerns’ voiced primarily by Councilman-at-large Michael Nicosia.

In a phone interview, Nicosia said that when the job was put out for bid, the specifications provided no mention of either air-conditioning or on-site parking. The A/C, he said, was essential, given the township’s plans to use the “multi-purpose” facility for child care, among other things.

Omission of the A/C component was potentially very problematic, Nicosia said, since that can be a costly item.

But after conferring with the rest of the council, Mayor Ray Kimble, township engineer Tom Herits and township attorney Tom Murphy, and, later with the contractor, Stonebridge Co., Nicosia said he’s confident that there’s a way out of the dilemma.

Belleville is using grant money to cover the cost of the project and about $71,000 from that grant allocation was tentatively earmarked for engineering and planning fees associated with the project – preparation of bid specifications, leg work, acquiring the grant and project supervision – all of which were performed by Maser Consulting, the township’s engineering firm, represented by Tom Herits.

But Maser has agreed to waive at least $30,000 from those fees now, and possibly more at a later date, Nicosia said.

“We’re going to reallocate that money toward the actual building of the project,” he said. “Right now it’s $30,000 – that money could increase toward the end of the project.”

At the same time, Nicosia said, after negotiations with the contractor, the township will get a heating and ventilation system as part of the project for $15,000 and the township will get credits against the final price for items such as unit heaters, roof-mounted power fans and gable louvers, all of which will be replaced – under revised plans – by the new HVAC system.

“The contractor is on board for all this,” he added. “And I’ve asked for a breakdown of credits and charges on the project as we proceed.”

Nicosia said discussions are continuing with Stonebridge on the possibility of adding a “tankless” water heater which, because it activates the heat only when a faucet is turned on, is more efficient than a tank heater. And it’s a relatively inexpensive option, he said.

Two unknowns are still to be resolved: Soil tests have to be done to determine how well it can hold the building (if pilings are needed, “then the project dies because we won’t be able to afford that,” according to Nicosia) and it’s still unclear whether the project budget can support a parking lot.

Typically, when a construction project is put out for bid, there’s a 20% set-aside for contingencies but not in this case. “We were budgeted at 100%,” Nicosia said.

Stonebridge is almost done with shop drawings for the 50-feet-wide by 85-feet-deep building and has applied for building permits. Revised plans will be brought before the township Planning Board for its review. Once construction materials arrive on site, the contractor has 100 days to finish the job, Nicosia said.

And for now, the contractor has been given the all-clear to proceed.

– Ron Leir

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