The path for the Hanford Reach Interpretive Center has never been easy.
The latest blow to the project is a construction bid that came in more than $1 million higher than anticipated for the first phase of the project at the west end of Columbia Park.
The lone bidder -- Apollo -- submitted a base bid of $3.4 million for what had been estimated as a $2.5 million job.
With add-ons like a 100-seat amphitheater and optional parking lot lighting, the final bid was $4 million.
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Renewed enthusiasm for the project under new leadership can only go so far, and all the good will in the world can't make up for a $1.6 million shortfall.
The Richland Public Facilities District board recommended taking 45 days to examine the options before approving or rejecting the bid. The Richland City Council had the final say and agreed not to make a decision while the PFD takes some time to study the alternatives.
The PFD board members had hoped the bid would be more than covered by a $2.9 million federal transportation grant, with some surplus left for extras. One option they now will consider is whether to dip further into the Reach's reserves to cover the full cost of the bid.
While we agree with the city council's decision to put the brakes on and re-evaluate, the discrepancy between the estimate and the bid does leave us scratching our heads.
How could the two figures be so far apart? And why did only Apollo step forward with a bid when the city engineer said there were six interested contractors?
We understand that doing work in Columbia Park is no picnic. Some surprises could come up when the dirt starts if workers run into any Indian artifacts or other cultural resources. And the site itself is tricky, with rocky ground and technical challenges.
The city says maybe the timing was bad, because many contractors have become increasingly busy in the past two months. The timing certainly looks like it was a factor, with the bid going out in the spring for a summer project. A lot of contractors are booked months out, at least the ones that want to stay in business.
Another timing issue that came into play was the deadline for the bid fell on the Tuesday after the long Memorial Day weekend. An addendum went out to prospective bidders late and many simply couldn't get numbers from their suppliers on the Friday before Memorial Day weekend.
In the end, only Apollo produced a bid. The company says it is happy to sit with the PFD board and justify its numbers. Apollo's representative also says it is the engineer's estimate that needs to be re-evaluated, not the company's.
Apollo went so far as to send a letter to the board reinforcing state law regarding bids on public projects. If the board wants to work with Apollo, the contractor would suggest ways to reduce costs.
Board members thought about rejecting Apollo's bid and reopening the competition, but the city's engineer wasn't sure that would result in lower bids.
The numbers are on the table, giving competitors an edge and maybe the board could find some things it could live without in the first phase, such as the amphitheater, which added nearly $500,000 to the bid.
It will be interesting to see the recommendation at the end of the 45 days. The project needs to move forward, but in a responsible manner. With all the new leadership's efforts to cut costs and improve fiscal responsibility, we hardly think a 39 percent increase over the expected cost is acceptable.