Antrim sets aside $800,000 for renovations
While Antrim Township, on advice of its solicitor, would not release last week the architectural estimate on renovating the municipal building, township administrator Brad Graham did say on Monday that he put $800,000 into the 2013 budget for the project.
At the Nov. 20 board meeting, several supervisors commented that the price shared by Centura Associates was more than they expected, and could go up with additional features they wanted in the building. The original plan calls for a new entrance and reception area, relocating offices, ADA bathrooms, a lunchroom, file storage area, improved lighting, a sound system and furnishings. The supervisors have added other things to their wish list.
Solicitor John Lisko told the press to submit a Right to Know (RTK) request and he would check on the legality of turning over the figures. The Echo Pilot filed the request, and received a denial on Nov. 30. RTK officer Jennifer Becknell wrote in the response, "The information cannot be shared at this time. Our solicitor advised that disclosing this information for general public record may prevent the township from receiving the lowest bid possible on the project. It is conceivable that if a prospective bidder knows the amount estimated, it is unlikely that he would submit a bid lower than the estimate."
The Echo Pilot consulted with media law counsel, who said bid exemption did exist. Access to bid information could be withheld until after the contract was awarded, but in this case it was only preliminary information relating to costs that was sought. Other potential exemptions fell under pre-decisional consideration or non-criminal investigations, which Lisko did not claim.
"But, even if there is an exemption that would allow the agency to withhold public access, the law does not require them to do so. The agency has discretion to release this information," said counsel.
Because the Echo Pilot discovered at least a ballpark figure to inform the public on the potential cost, it accepted the denial.
Though an agency is required to respond to a Right to Know request within five business days after the request is received, Becknell provided a supplemental response on Dec. 3.
She cited a section of the law that allowed an exception to providing material if it revealed a trade secret. The township's interpretation was that the cost estimate would benefit bidders and other architects. It also argued that the estimate was not a record as defined by the Right to Know Act. "It is simply a rough estimate of the cost to renovate the township building," Becknell wrote. "The actual bids and documents awarding the bids are public records."
She also cited the pre-decisional deliberation clause. "The bid estimate is a memo or other document used by the supervisors concerning whether or not to renovate the building."
Antrim approved an architectural and administration agreement with Centura Associates Inc., Chambersburg, on Nov. 13. The firm will supervise build-out of the township office space, estimated at 4,140 square feet. The fee for the two phases of the project is $17,500.
Centura's responsibilties include creating conceptual sketches and preliminary drawings, working drawings and bid specifications; assistance with engineering and approvals; reproducing graphics for bidding; overseeing the bid process and submitting the plans to Antrim for necessary permits.
The second phase, during construction, includes site visits at least once a week, daily administration of contracts, bi-weekly conferences and reports to Antrim, approval of payment requisitions, review of material submissions, coordination of schedules and a final inspection.
The board hopes to receive the drawings and specifications in January, and put the renovation project out to bid in February.