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More funds needed for dam

AWA requesting additional $3.5M for Bellwood project

The Altoona Water Authority on Thursday declared its intention to award a $20.6 million low-bid contract to renovate the Bellwood dam, contingent on Pennvest lending an additional $3.5 million.

That amount would make up the difference between the estimated project cost and that low bid.

The bid from Allison Park Contractors of Gibsonia, along with nine higher bids, reflect the recent COVID-era increase in prices for construction materials and supplies “across the board, according to consulting engineer Mark Glenn of Gwin Dobson & Foreman.

The authority is “optimistic” Pennvest will vote to award the additional money at the agency’s next meeting Oct. 20, based on conversations with agency representatives and assurances there’s money available — although it’s not “100 percent” until the Pennvest vote, according to authority General Manager Mark Perry and controller Gina DeRubeis.

It wouldn’t make sense to rebid the project, in hopes of getting a better price, because the high costs may be “permanent,” Glenn said.

The authority has rebid projects in hopes of getting lower prices before, with results that were worse than the initial bids, Perry said.

Besides, the two-year project was previously scheduled to end in 2019, Perry said.

The contract the authority intends to award to Allison Park includes $1.5 million for removal of silt from the reservoir bed.

One board member asked if it would make sense to exclude that work to save money.

Although it was bid as an “alternate,” silt removal is important, because it will free up 30 million gallons of additional space for water and eliminate the problem of turbidity when there’s low flow followed by rain, which can render the reservoir unusable, according to Glenn and Perry.

“If we want to do (the silt removal), now’s the time,” Perry said.

It’s the ideal time because the reservoir will be empty for the renovation and the machinery and workers will be on hand, he said.

With the contract for the dam tentatively awarded, various preliminary actions need to be taken by numerous parties, including the authority staff, the city, attorneys, engineers and the contractor, according to Glenn and others.

“There are lots of moving parts,” Glenn said.

If Pennvest doesn’t approve the additional money on Oct. 20, the authority will need to “regroup,” DeRubeis said.

The authority will open bids Sept. 30 for renovation of the Bellwood treatment plant, a companion project to the dam renovation that is estimated to cost $9.9 million, and that project could encounter a similar funding issue, although there’s “a little more buffer” in the estimate for the plant work, Glenn said.

Pennvest has the money available to add funding for that project also, according to DeRubeis.

“We’ll cross that bridge when we come to it,” Perry said.

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