Allentown makes switch in engineer on treatment plant project

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ALLENTOWN – Municipal officials have ended their relationship with the firm that was hired to oversee the completion of a new waste water treatment plant and hired the company that serves as Allentown’s borough engineer to take over tasks associated with the treatment plant project.

Borough Council members unanimously passed a resolution to terminate Allentown’s contract with Dewberry and approved a resolution to hire Roberts Engineering Group to complete the project.

Mayor Greg Westfall said Ed Gillette, who designed the new waste water treatment plant, is expected to work with Roberts Engineering Group and be involved in the construction administration and post-construction administration (operation) of the improved plant.

Westfall said Dewberry was not initially including daily inspections of the construction project. He said officials believe daily inspections are necessary to avoid multiple change orders throughout the construction period.

The council’s resolution terminating the contract with Dewberry states “there are concerns about (the firm’s) ability to complete the waste water treatment plant project on time and on budget following their request for a second change order and the delay in the overall project’s timeline.”

Westfall said Allentown has spent $235,000 to this point for Dewberry’s services. He said the firm’s services included producing the preliminary design, final design, specifications, and final plan and permits. The mayor said the bidding documentation for prospective construction contractors will amount to another $15,500 when the firm produces that work.

Westfall said the money spent to this point has resulted in completed work products in accordance with the borough’s contract with Dewberry. He said the work products produced by Dewberry will be used by Roberts Engineering Group to complete the construction of the upgraded plant.

Asked to comment, Molly Johnson, the director of communications for Dewberry, said, “We completed the purchase orders and the design documents as requested.”

The resolution hiring Roberts Engineering Group states the firm will provide construction administration services and post-construction services in an amount not to exceed $225,000. The resolution lists the tasks the company will complete, including administering construction and providing inspection services, witnessing the testing and start-up of treatment units, and processing contractor payments.

The council’s decision to part ways with Dewberry and hire Roberts Engineering Group came on the same night, March 13, that officials announced the initial estimated completion date for the new waste water treatment plant on Breza Road would not be met.

During a meeting, former councilman Wil Borkowski said that in August 2016, when he was serving in office, the projected completion date for the new treatment plant was June 1, 2018. Borkowski said he was concerned delays have pushed Allentown beyond that date and will lead to unanticipated costs in materials and labor.

During a conversation that followed, council President Thomas Fritts said the new treatment plant was now projected to be completed in September 2019.

Westfall said delays over the past 18 months “are partly our own making.” The mayor said Allentown is seeking funding for the project from the New Jersey Environmental Infrastructure Trust and he said that between August and October 2017, an application for the funding “sat on a desk and was not reviewed.”

The treatment plant issue was raised again at the council’s March 27 meeting when residents had their first chance to comment on the switch from Dewberry to Roberts Engineering Group. A revised schedule indicates the new treatment plant is now expected to be operational by June 1, 2019.

In response to a question from Borkowski about why the change in engineering firms was made, Councilman John A. Elder III said, “We were not satisfied with the progress being made by Dewberry.”

Fritts said the council “received several change orders from Dewberry we were not happy with. This was a complete debacle and the taxpayers are the ones who are going to feel it in the end.” He said the decision to make the switch in engineering firms was unanimous.

Resident Linda Cotte said, “Who is holding Dewberry responsible for money they took and did nothing? … I’m (ticked off). You have to act on behalf of the residents, not for political reasons.”

“I think the decision to go with Dewberry was predetermined,” Councilman Rob Schmitt said. “I’m glad we made the change (to Roberts Engineering Group). The person we (initially) hired (from Dewberry) to supervise the project was ill-informed, glib and unable to answer questions on the regulatory level. Going forward we have a schedule, a design and someone who is going to watch the store for us. I think we have made a good comeback” on the project.

Westfall said the design and permitting for the new treatment plant have been completed and he said Roberts Engineering Group is prepared to move forward with the administration of the project. Fritts has been named the governing body’s liaison to the engineering firm during the construction period.

“With Roberts Engineering Group (in place), there will be daily inspections at the plant and the engineer will pick up problems as construction occurs,” the mayor said. “We are anxious to move forward and to get this done.”

The revised schedule calls for Allentown to advertise for bids, review the bids and award a contract for the upgrade of the waste water treatment plant by July. By Sept. 1, officials are expected to issue a notice to proceed to the construction contractor, according to Westfall.