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Delays may hike library work bill

Bid guaranteed price for 30 days

Even though a federal judge has ruled that work may proceed, delays from months of litigation might raise the $5.7 million cost of the Northborough Free Library renovation, according to bid documents submitted by contractors.

The $5.7 million in construction costs proposed in Adams-based Souliere & Zepka Construction's winning bid for the project were valid for only 30 days after they were made public in mid-April, bid documents say. Ideally, the company would have begun construction soon after the contract was awarded in June.

But complaints and legal challenges from a losing bidder resulted in a federal Appeals Court order in July preventing construction from beginning. The order was rescinded on Sept. 28, but work has yet to commence.

Last week, John Zepka of Souliere & Zepka Construction said he might have to revisit his $5.7 million bid with the town now that so much time has passed. He was particularly concerned that subcontractors might not be able to offer the same prices. Subcontractors make up more than $2.5 million of the company's bid.

"They have 30 days," Zepka said of Northborough officials. "It's been six months."

Zepka said he is to meet with town officials this week to discuss the renovation.

Assistant Town Administrator John Coderre said he was not expecting cost increases. Because the construction market was soft at present, he anticipated that Souliere & Zepka would stay on the project on the agreed terms.

"Right now, nobody has given me any indications that we have higher costs as a result of the delay," he said.

The library project would demolish and replace the 1975 cinderblock portion of the Main Street library and refurbish the 1894 building.

Work was to have begun in August and last for 14 months. In August, library operations moved to temporary quarters on Lyman Street.

Along with architectural fees, moving, and other costs, total spending on the project is expected to be $7.7 million.

The library's director, Jean Langley, said she expects to spend more on rent because of the delay.

At present, the library pays $5,700 a month in rent, but that could increase to as much as $6,200 a month if it stays in the temporary site for more than 18 months.

The town budgeted $263,000 for the library's move, Langley said.

"We are going to be paying at least another month's rent than we originally planned," she said.

Langley also said the delay as a result of the legal dispute has brought fund-raising to pay for the renovation to a standstill because it was planned to coincide with groundbreaking ceremonies. The library has raised $600,000 for the project so far, she said.

The legal wrangling began in July when Barr Inc. of Putnam, Conn., argued in federal District Court in Worcester that Souliere & Zepka was illegally awarded the contract because Barr's bid was lower by $226,000. The town argued that officials must award the project to the lowest responsible bidder and Barr was not considered responsible.

When the federal judge ruled against Barr, the company asked the US First Circuit Court of Appeals in Boston for a temporary stay to block construction until the district judge's decision was reviewed.

The court granted the stay while it studied the case, but then issued the ruling siding with the town late last month.

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