Replacement of water line on Gulfstream Avenue in Sarasota expected to start May 18

Affected travel lane to remain open most of the time

A graphic shows the two areas where the watermain project will take place. Image courtesy City of Sarasota

Thanks to a unanimous vote of the City Commission this week, work is expected to begin May 18 on the replacement of a 16-inch primary water line in downtown Sarasota, mostly along Gulfstream Avenue.

The project is scheduled to be completed by Nov. 18, Bill Riebe, the city’s Utilities Department director, assured Commissioner Hagen Brody during the board’s regular meeting on May 7.

“The timeline is accurate,” Riebe said of a graphic in the backup agenda material for the item.

When Brody asked whether the project will affect traffic flow on Gulfstream, Riebe explained, “The construction is outside of the travel lane.” Nonetheless, he continued, the contractor may need to close the travel lane at times during the project.

In response to a question from Commissioner Jen Ahearn-Koch, Riebe said the work hours will be 6 a.m. to 9 p.m., unless “there’s some extenuating circumstance” to warrant the contractor’s extending those hours.

Officially, the unanimous board vote on May 7 was to award the contract for the project to Spectrum Underground of Sarasota at a cost of $843,951.90. A staff memo noted the project budget set by staff was $900,000.

Spectrum was one of only two companies to bid on the work. The other was C-Squared Certified General Contractor also of Sarasota, which submitted a bid of $905,382.94, a city document showed.

The project will entail the replacement of approximately 750 linear feet of an “asbestos cement (AC) watermain” on First Street and the Ringling Causeway west of U.S. 41, the agenda material explains. The work will include construction “in the residential and commercially very important corridor around the Westin/Vue, Ritz-Carlton and Watergate Plaza,” the staff memo said, referring to hotels and condominium complexes in the area.

David Boswell (left) and Bill Riebe appear before the City Commission on May 7. News Leader photo

The existing AC watermain was installed in 1963, the memo notes; “[it] is at the end of its useful life.”

The memo adds, “Failure of this main would be very disruptive to affected properties.”

Brody also raised the prospect of city staff looking into options to reduce timelines for construction projects. “Maybe the [extra] cost will be justifiable in certain circumstances,” he said, “depending on where the construction [will take place]” and the potential for negative impacts on businesses. “Some of these [projects] just take, in my opinion, too long.”

City staff has pursued expedited timelines in the past, David Boswell, general manager of the city’s Purchasing Department, told Brody. For example, the city has asked for condensed project timelines to make sure a project is completed outside the height of tourist season, he said.

Speeding up the completion date, Boswell pointed out, generally does entail the hiring of extra crews, along with work at night and on weekends. “That’s where the cost usually explodes. … It usually has a hefty price tag.”

He added that efforts to make sure a project is completed in the summer can backfire, too, if persistent rain interrupts the work. Still, he said, he could recall one city project in recent years that was completed on an expedited timeline, and it ended up only a couple of weeks behind schedule because of prolonged rainfall.

Deputy City Manager Marlon Brown told the commissioners staff always could ask for alternate bids for condensed project timelines. “You can make an informed decision as to which [bid] you want to pursue …”

Minority hiring considerations

Commissioner Jen Ahearn-Koch. File photo

Yet another issue raised during discussion of the project was the efforts of staff to contract with minority- or women-owned firms. Both Commissioners Jen Ahearn-Koch and Willie Shaw called for more attention to that.

Boswell explained that staff has been working hard to advertise city projects more broadly to potential bidders. Additionally, he said, the Purchasing Department earlier this year conducted a series of sessions to help owners of minority-owned businesses and small companies understand the city procurement process better. Staff is preparing to hold another set of those workshops starting in June, he said, calling the series of classes “Purchasing 101” through “Purchasing 105.”

Staff has partnered with Suncoast Workforce, a job search assistance agency, on those sessions, Boswell added. The classes cover a wide array of information about the bidding process, he explained.

(A city webpageexplains facets of the Purchasing Division’s Vendor Training Program.)

Boswell noted that the city’s senior communications manager, Jan Thornburg, helped spread the word about the first sessions before they were conducted, encouraging companies to register.

For many minority-owned businesses and small businesses, Boswell pointed out, local government purchasing processes “can be overwhelming.” Yet, he added, many of the forms the firms have to complete are state-mandated.