The council was divided Tuesday on the need for a committee to review how the city gets its estimates for capital projects.
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — The City Council voted 6-4 on Tuesday to look into the formation of a committee to review how the city estimates capital projects.
The proposal was put forward by Councilor at Large Barry Clairmont, who has criticized several recent projects for being underestimated, particularly the recent gymnasium renovations at Pittsfield High School.
Additional appropriations were required last month for the gym because the initial estimate had failed to anticipate certain engineering variables in the work needed.
Other examples of unexpected additional appropriation given included the high school's dome, re-flooring at City Hall, and the demolition of the former Grossman's building, though Clairmont described this as a problem that "has been going on for years."
The plan has drawn ire from Mayor Daniel Bianchi, however, who has referred to Clairmont's committee proposal little more than "good theater."
"It's easy to take a look at one or two projects, and just focus on the ones that we may have not gotten the best estimate on. But the fact of the matter is we do somewhere in the neighborhood of 50 to 60 of these a year," said Bianchi.
Bianchi said the initial estimate on the school gym was based on a legitimate professional who lacked certain information, but was provided for free and thus the error cost the city nothing.
Some confusion arose over the function of the committee, which in Clairmont's wording would "study how the city can obtain better cost estimates" for capital projects, and "shall establish a standard set of procedures for estimating costs which every city department will use."
Opponents of the idea were adamantly against creating a committee that would be involved in evaluating each capital project, and questioned whether one broad set of rules would be practical for diverse departments and types of work.
"Getting a checklist, getting the correct paperwork in, and following the right procedures going forward to get the job done, that I would agree with," said Councilor at Large Melissa Mazzeo. "But to form a committee to go through each project, I think you're bogging down everything in red tape."
"You would have to find somebody with the specific expertise for each project," agreed Bianchi of this such a scenario. "It would be a bureaucratic situation that I think is I think is almost unworkable."
Clairmont clarified that his proposal does not call for the formation of a committee to evaluate the projects themselves, but to assess the procedures used for seeking estimates and look for possible ways to improve it.
"I don't see any harm in trying to find solutions, or even have a conversation about some of these quotes that have come back substantially higher looking for more money," said Ward 1 Councilor Christine Yon.
"It's not that it's always over," pointed out Councilor at Large Churchill Cotton, who said he, too, saw no harm in opening up more discussion through a committee. "There are projects that have come in under budget."
"I don't know what kind of procedures you would put in place? Would it be like a set of commandments?" objected Ward 4 Councilor Christopher Connell, arguing that widely varying types of projects would make it impossible to create guidelines to fit all departments.
"I suspect from the mayor's remarks that he will not take this petition seriously, if that's the case it's unfortunate for everyone involved," said Clairmont, who motioned to refer the petition to both the mayor's office and the Finance Committee for further examination.
That passed 6-4 with Councilors John Krol, Jonathon Lothrop, Kevin Sherman, Cotton and Yon supporting, and Mazzeo, Connell, Kevin Morandi and Anthony Simonelli opposed. Ward 3 Councilor Paul Capitanio was absent.
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