New municipal building construction expected to resume this week

| 28 Sep 2011 | 02:56

    SPARTA - After pondering the question, considering all possibilities and, perhaps, accepting the implications, Sparta’s township manager couldn’t be more to the point. “I fully expect a contractor to be on site this week,” said Henry Underhill, asked when and if work would ever resume on the new municipal building. “It seems like an awful long time, but that’s where we are.” For the past four months, Underhill has watched the $5.2 million monument mold, dust, and lie dormant in the existing municipal building, while a bonding company continues negotiations with potential replacement contractors to pick up where the original work had faltered. Underhill had expected an agreement to be reached long ago, back when Atlantic Mutual Insurance assumed financial responsibility for the project in July. But it hasn’t happened, at least not the way the township manager had hoped it would. “They (Atlantic Mutual) moved on to different contractors,” said Underhill. “They are paying, so they’re on their own in picking the contractor. We have right of first refusal, but the ball is in their court to get things moving.” A spokesman for Atlantic Mutual refused to comment this week on any matters concerning the municipal building. Underhill said the township has not had an opportunity to accept or deny a new contractor, but has seen a list of “reputable” possible replacements. “I think it’s just a matter of having their way of doing things, and we’re not being told anything,” said Underhill. “Both sides are interested in protecting themselves from a business sense. But the town is at the point where (Atlantic Mutual) is going to have to do something.” No deadline has been set for Atlantic Mutual Insurance to find a replacement contractor, said Underhill. “I don’t think there’s been a deadline voiced, but we’re coming to it,” he said. “There’s no endless timeframe to this.” Underhill acknowledged past disappointments, but said it is in the township’s best interest to avoid additional action to get construction back up and running. “If the bonding company says we’re done, the town would have to finish the building n and sue them,” he said. “But if we complete the work and bill them, it’s a long road to take to get the money back. I’m not expecting this.” Meanwhile, Underhill continues to insist that Atlantic Mutual Insurance is financially liable for the project. He said the bonding company would continue to accrue at least $600 in late fees for each day the project is delayed, although he has yet to see any additional costs to suggest what the township is indebted. “Whatever the number is, it’s their responsibility,” said Underhill. “They are getting charged a late fee for every day it doesn’t get done. I would assume that would make them want to move it along.” Anthony Imbimbo, the township purchasing agent, said once the bonding company concludes negotiations on a replacement contractor for the project, work would begin at limited levels for the first few weeks. The bonding company has been meticulously seeking a replacement contractor since Horizon Contracting of Union County stopped working on the project more than six months ago. Construction on the project had begun in the spring of 2004 and was scheduled for completion in November of that year. Sparta officials have not yet been given a new date for completion of the building. Underhill said the construction delays have contributed to a mold problem growing inside the building. Health experts concur that mold can cause allergic or asthmatic symptoms in individuals exposed to the bacteria. Imbimbo said any clean-up costs would be handled as part of the takeover agreement and would be a top priority once work commences. Atlantic Mutual Insurance is not bound to state law in choosing a contractor. Underhill has confirmed that liens have been filed against Horizon Contracting, which had trouble paying vendors and coordinating schedules with trade workers. Delays in construction had forced township employees to work in the existing 100-year-old building through the past winter and endure a faulty heating system, a leaky roof, termites, and overcrowding. Underhill said that temporary heating would be installed this winter in the current building at about $2,500 per month. When completed, Underhill said, the new 35,000 square-foot municipal building would be twice its original size featuring a new security system; the police department will have state-of-the-art facilities; the courtroom an expanded capacity to seat 100; and visitors access to “one-stop shopping.”