OLD LYME — How far a $400,000 Community Connectivity grant will cover sidewalk construction on the upper portion of Hartford Avenue and a section of Route 156 will remain a question until the town sees the project bids, mostly likely in the late fall with construction planned for March 2021.
If the entire project is to be completed, another question will be how the shortfall, if there is one, will be paid for, especially during the uncertain financial climate of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Until you get it bid, you don’t really know,” First Selectman Timothy Griswold said by phone on Tuesday. “The engineer thought that the distance from Bocce Lane up to 156, plus the distance from Cross Lane to the Police Department on 156, would cost more than the grant available.”
On August 15, members of the Connectivity Grant Committee met with engineers from the BSC Group of Glastonbury and five of the 13 homeowners on Hartford Avenue whose homes are on the west side of the road between Bocce Lane and Route 156 where sidewalks will be installed in the five-foot right-of-way. Homeowners whose properties directly abutted the connectivity project were invited by certified mail to meet with the committee and the engineering firm to discuss project plans.
A number of the homes along that stretch of Hartford Avenue are situated lower than the street level, which has resulted in drainage and stormwater runoff issues. The sidewalk project will provide improvements that will redirect stormwater runoff to the street culverts under normal storm conditions, but these sections of the sidewalk will entail higher construction costs than originally anticipated.
The town received the $400,000 grant in 2018 and submitted an RFP for the design work in 2019. Five engineering firms submitted proposals last summer. BSC Group, which designed the sidewalks for the section of Hartford Ave. from Bocce Lane to Sound View Beach, was chosen as the low bidder for the project.
The bid from BSC came in under $400,000 and since the town wanted to max out the grant, additional sidewalks along 156 were added to the project scope.
The Board of Finance originally approved $30,000 for project design. The addition of sidewalks on Route 156 required $10,000 more for design work, which the Board of Finance approved on Sept. 17, 2019.
The purpose of allocating funds for sidewalk design on Route 156 was to allow the town to ask for bids on that part of the project, said Andy Russell, chair of the Board of Finance, on Tuesday.
“We thought it was wise to plan it out so we would know how much it would cost to do the sidewalks on 156. There was hope that there’d be leftover money from the Sound View Hartford Avenue part of it that might allow some of that sidewalk to be built on 156,” he said.
Griswold said BSC would estimate how far sidewalks could be constructed on Route 156 with money left from Hartford Avenue.
BSC also indicated a possibility of an additional grant to pay for the remaining sidewalks on Route 156, although the timing might result in a subsequent project, Griswold said.
“I don’t know how quickly we can put it together. If we bid it out in the later fall, it might give us enough time to submit for an additional grant,” he said.
Griswold said applying for another grant will be the first option the town will consider instead of asking the Board of Finance for more money.
He said he was concerned that tax collections could be down because of the pandemic and that could dampen the enthusiasm of the Board of Finance for a project like this one, he said.
“Until we see how tax collections go, there might be reticence to jump on the bandwagon and just say, ‘Do it,’” he said. “We think the collections won’t be as robust as normal but as to how bad, we don’t know yet.”
Another concern was whether the town would be reimbursed by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES) for expenditures including police rangers at town hall and extra monitoring at the town beach, among other expenses, Griswold said.
“If someone says we’re not eligible for some reason, that could be another expense,” he said. “We’ve spent about $85,000 to $90,000 retrofitting town hall with plexiglass and doing things like changing full doors to dutch doors and buying hand sanitizer.”
He said dipping into the town surplus fund was a questionable decision when the town’s revenues and reimbursements were uncertain.
“This year could be a challenge,” he said.