Thursday, October 11, 2012
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Forgy explains the role of a city engineer to aldermen

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[October 11, 2012]  At the Sept. 25 committee of the whole workshop meeting, Lincoln aldermen expressed concern about what they were paying Prairie Engineers to do for the city, after Darren Forgy proposed additional money for the firm to do design engineering work for the bridge project on Oglesby Avenue.

This week, Forgy came to council prepared to explain what the firm does as the interim engineers and also to pitch a more permanent plan wherein Prairie Engineers would fill that position on a long-term basis.

In addition, he talked to the council about how the city can save money by "bundling" projects, which is where he began his presentation.

Forgy used a slideshow presentation with graphs of work done statewide in four different categories. The graphs showed what the high and low bids on these projects had been in the state of Illinois in the last year. Along with this, he identified where the best price could be found as far as the amount of work done. He said that when looking at curb and gutter work, the best bang for the buck came when bids involved doing 20 blocks at one time.

What happens is that when a job is let out for bid, the contractor looks at the size of the job and considers that in his bid. If it is a very small job, he's going to bid it higher. Much of this is because he has to move equipment to the job site and then move it out again in a short period of time. When the contractor has a larger job, or can do several jobs at once, he will bid it lower because he can bring the equipment into town and keep it there until all the work is done.

Using the same graph, Forgy superimposed the bids for the Lincoln Avenue project and the Oglesby Avenue bridge project. He showed the council that the Lincoln Avenue project, which is larger, came in only slightly above the state average. The Oglesby bridge project came in quite a bit above the state average because it is a smaller project.

He went through the same scenarios with graphs showing the cost of asphalt, sidewalks and concrete. He said that in most street projects, asphalt is going to constitute 50 percent of the total cost. By bundling projects, the cost of the asphalt will drop because the contractor can purchase larger quantities at a time.

Forgy explained that in the case of the state averages, the most cost-effective bids were for a minimum of 10 blocks at a time for asphalt, five to six blocks at a time for sidewalk replacement and one block at a time for concrete streets.

He then offered the council a comparison of what they could have saved had they bundled three projects into one bid and one job for the contractors.

Using the Lincoln Avenue project and Oglesby bridge project, which have not been done, and the Brainard's Branch bridge approaches, which have been done, he showed the council that had they done all three at once, their overall savings on the three projects could have been around $30,000, or 8 percent of the total cost.

Forgy then talked about when is the best time to negotiate a price, which offered a segue into the next part of the presentation.

He said the best time to negotiate a price is during the bidding process. He said this is why design plans are important to the project.

Forgy explained that when there are change orders involved, more money will be spent. He said if the city bids a project, selects a contractor, then realizes they need to make changes to the project, the contractor is going adjust his price so he doesn't lose money on the deal.

Therefore, the best plan is to go through the design process beforehand.

In the design phase, Forgy said the engineer should first evaluate the project and the alternatives for completing it. He used the Oglesby Bridge as an example. He said there are very few residents on the north side of the bridge, so a cul-de-sac may not be needed there. He said the job could include doing some curb work and landscaping to make the area look nice for the residents, and leave it at that.

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The second part of the design phase is to consider the effects it will have on area residents. Forgy said that considering what is good for the residents can save money in the long run and keep the residents happy. He said the city wouldn't want to see a resident walk out of their home during the actual work and say, "That isn't what I wanted." By then it is too late, Forgy said. The work has begun, and changing it at that stage would cost more money.

And finally the design phase should provide a plan that delivers the best value for the money and communicates the design with sufficient detail for the work to be done satisfactorily.

In the design phase there are typically three components: the construction plans, project specifications and contractual document preparation.

Forgy said the construction plans in the past have not always been done when they perhaps should have been, but they are also not always required.

He then noted that such plans are necessary for larger projects like Lincoln Avenue and the Oglesby bridge because the city is making significant changes to the streets.

Project specifications and contract documents are always required in the design phase.

Forgy said the general rule of thumb is that design costs will constitute 10 to 15 percent of the total project. He said Prairie Engineers is not calculating charges in that fashion, though. They instead bill according to the hours invested in the specific project. But he said that when the city is looking at a proposal from the firm, they should look at the overall percentage.

"If it comes 17 percent, you might want to look at that proposal again," he said, "because either there is something really heavy in that project, or we are out of line somewhere."

Forgy said the goal of the design plan is to reduce the overall cost of the project.

As the city engineers, Prairie Engineers is also responsible for services in the construction phase, including construction administration and the other resident project representative services.

The project representative service means that there is a member of the engineering firm on-site supervising the work. Forgy said this is not always needed. He cited as an example the slip lining of the sewers on Union Avenue. He said there was really no need for a full-time representative at that job. On the other hand, there are projects coming up where a representative should be at the site most of the time.

Forgy said this was necessary in big or complex projects to ensure that the work is being performed, to document the work done, develop final pay amounts for the contractors and develop a "record drawing" of the project.

He touched on the record drawing, saying there are currently many things that are not documented for the city. He said he has had to rely on the memory and knowledge of city officials to tell him what has been done. He said he can also call the former engineer, Mark Mathon, and talk to him as needed, but for the future, the city needs to have better documentation.

Forgy then moved on to talking about the engineering services the city is now receiving from Prairie Engineers and what he proposes for the future.


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