A Hummel Report Investigation
Last month we told you about a construction project that began right after the 4th of July in downtown Newport. This week: groundbreaking for a $4 million state-of-the-art pavilion at one of Rhode Island's most popular beaches right at the height of beach season. Jim Hummel asks if state officials considered any alternatives to the timing.
Hummel: ``Last month we told you about an ill-timed construction project in downtown Newport just as the tourist season was just getting under way. This week: one of the state's most beautiful and popular beaches and the decision to a start construction project - again at the height of the season.
It is a scene many of us dream about in February: A beautiful, warm day at the beach.
And for thousands of visitors every year the choice is East Matunuck State Beach bordering the jetty leading into Point Judith.
``It's just a nice walk for exercise and there's no undertow here. It's just a very nice beach.''
All of that is still here at East Matunuck, but beachgoers this season are also in the constant shadow of a construction project that began...in June.
Beachgoer: ``I would have thought they'd wait until after the summer season and started in the fall?''
Hummel: ``Were you surprised about the timing?''
Beachgoer: ``Kind of, but I figured there was something behind it.''
That something is a $4.4 million state-of-the-art pavilion that state officials hope will be ready for next year's beach season. East Matunuck is the latest in a line of beach upgrades that began with Scarborough nearly 20 years ago - funded mostly by two huge bond issues passed by voters in the late 1980s.
Few will argue the 30-year-old pavilion needed replacing. In fact the state building commission said it couldn't open this season because of code violations. It's the timing of the demolition in late June that has baffled many.
Beachgoer: ``Wouldn't it have made more sense if they have started the work in September and they could work September, October, November, maybe even part of December, and then what wasn't finished they could continue on in March, April, May and be ready for June and July?''
And that means this summer two dozen Port-o-Johns have replaced the bathrooms, there is no concession stand, and there is less space to park because the main lot has been roped off for construction.
Hummel: ``When did you know you had money in hand to be able to do this?''
Dias: ``Two years ago.''
DEM's Chief of Planning Joe Dias was with the department when the old pavilion went up in the late 1970s. Contractors said they would need 12 to 13 months to build a new one, so the state planned on losing one full beach season to construction.
Hummel: ``If your timetable was 12 to 13 months, why wasn't that pavilion being ripped down in March, April or May; because if you had construction delays and not and acceleration you'd be into the next July or August, possibly two seasons?''
Dias: ``Correct. We just didn't get the bidding and the permitting and all of the paperwork completed.''
Hummel: ``But you've known this, Joe, for three years. If you symbolically took it down Labor Day, or in February, March or whatever and even if you explained it's a year, it's a little bit different than having the bulldozer hit as people are going to the beach at the height of the season. Was there any thought given to that from a public relations standpoint, about the timing?''
Dias: No. We never actually thought about it. We just assumed from Day No. 1 we'd be closed for the season, one year, then we'd open up the following year - which we did at the other beaches - and as soon as we got funding we started pushing the project through as fast as we could. Through design, permitting and through bid process, but I think we were, probably a month or two behind in the bid process, opening the bids and getting the contractor on board. But that's just the way everything fell down, fell together. We had 10 different pieces to get together, to get the thing out.''
Hummel: ``So if it's going according to your schedule and it's going to take 12-13 months that's going to put you into another season next year, is it not?''
Dias: ``Actually we just had a meeting in this room last Friday with all of the contractor and our management team and there was some new scheduling, some new pile driving techniques that were brought to our attention that we agreed to with our structural engineer. That's going to speed the process up by 42 days. So right now they're anticipating the should be completed by the 15th of April, which is great for us. Maybe earlier.''
Hummel: ``Are there any contingencies either for rewards for finishing sooner, or penalties for finishing later?''
Dias: ``Right now the state doesn't put any liquidated damages in any of the contacts that we are able to bid out.''
Hummel: ``And do you know why that is?''
Dias: ``No idea.''
Hummel: ``Any of the state contracts they don't do that, or just D.E.M.?''
Dias: ``I think just D.E.M. I think D.O.T has some of them now. I think some of their bridge contract, they have some rewards, some of those....''
Hummel: ``Is that something you've ever considered?''
Dias: ``I think we've asked about it but I don't think we've ever gotten an answer.''
For some it's been a summer of discontent. Others are making best out of it and looking forward to the finished product next summer.
Beachgoer: ``Hopefully by next summer it'll be all pretty. I saw the picture that was up so it will be really nice.''
Dias: ``Our Parks Department, let's see...their slogan, which they told me to say: ``One Season of Hardship for a Lifetime of Enjoyment.''
Beachgoer: ``I will not use those outhouses - Port-o-Johns or whatever they are. Some people say they're clean - other people say they're not so clean, but I just don't like them.''
Hummel: ``If you're not wild about using the Port-o-johns, limit your intake is that the advice of the day?''
Beachgoer: ``Limit your intake and don't stay as long.''
In East Matunuck, Jim Hummel for The Hummel Report.