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Ayres contract bump rattles alderwoman

By Paul Snyder

A $105,500 increase to a planning contract between the city of Madison and Ayres Associates Inc. has some city leaders calling for better upfront math.

“This happens too often,” said Alderwoman Judy Compton. “You approve a contract and then a little while later, it’s, ‘Oops, we need more, things have changed.’ It adds up.”

The city’s Department of Engineering requested the Common Council on Tuesday increase by $105,500 a $372,130 contract with the Madison office of Ayres based on more detailed design work the company performed for the Highway M and Valley View Road intersection construction and the Pleasant View Road roundabout and reconstruction.

Rob Phillips, interim city engineer, said the increase is a result of unexpected changes to designs, including the addition of detention ponds. He said the contract change also is needed because Ayres and the city had different interpretations of some aspects of the contract.

For example, Phillips said, the city wanted structural designs for retaining walls along Pleasant View Road. Ayres provided more detailed designs than expected, and the firm put more hours into the work than the city originally anticipated.

Factor that in with other unanticipated details, Phillips said, and the city has to find a fair balance in compensating the company.

“It’s not rare that this kind of thing happens,” he said. “You try to put together estimates upfront based on what you think might happen, but as the design process goes on, you start to see some changes.”

Representatives from Ayres did not return calls.

Phillips said he could not estimate how much money consultant contract amendments cost the city in the past year, but he provided documents showing the city amended at least four contracts last year. One contract was increased by more than $55,000.

The amendments are relatively small, so they do not always catch the attention of Common Council members, Compton said. But it’s still taxpayer money, and a lot of small numbers can add up to a lot.

“I would like to find out how many contracts have increased after approval,” she said. “These are things that should have been considered earlier in the process.”

City Comptroller Dean Brasser said he does not have totals of contract adjustments in previous years.

Phillips said the engineering department always is trying to improve contract estimates. He said better defining certain areas of work — retaining wall design, for instance — is the key to reducing the number of contract amendments.

For large projects, Phillips said, the city seldom contracts beyond environmental studies because of the uncertainty involved in trying to estimate how much design work is needed. That kind of precaution also could cut down on amendments to smaller projects, he said, but it would come at the cost of reducing the number of projects the city could do in a year.

“I think we’re representing the city well, but I wouldn’t fault anyone for being concerned about any contract issue,” he said. “It’s city money.”

Compton said she does not know how the engineering department could arrive at better estimates but said some city staff members need to find answers.

“It’s a definite question that needs to be addressed,” she said. “It puts you in a quandary to say we have to pay because the work’s already done.”

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