by Leanna Bradbury

After four years of planning, fundraising, and cost-cutting the Town of Crestone will construct a potable water and fire hydrant system. Over the last few months a lot of very hard work was done to make this system fit into the $638,000 loan/grant from the Colorado Department of Local Affairs. The bids, opened April 7, were low enough to proceed, and construction is scheduled to begin later this month.
Affordability was hardly the case last October when the general contractor bids were opened: $987,000 … $1,043,000 … $1,292,000. After engineering, testing, legal and augmentation costs, there was only $530,000 available for the contractor. It was easy for the townspeople to remain poker-faced at the bid opening. They were stunned. The high bidders congratulated the low bidder and left. Project Engineer Mark Thomson told the “low” bidder he would be contacted. The Town Trustees had no choice but to reject all bids.
The Water Team—Mayor Ralph Abrams, Trustees Kizzen Laki and Jim Hollmer, Planning Commissioner Warren Stephen, Fred Bauder, David Hill, Town Manager Akia Tanara and Treasurer Leanna Bradbury—brainstormed, investigated sources of additional funding, while Engineer Mark Thomson redesigned the system to be smaller.
Trustee Kairina Danforth, with previous experience as a procurement officer, joined the Water Team after her recommendation that the Town purchase pipe and other materials directly. Warren and Ralph surfed the internet to find a cheaper water tank. Ideas popped up that if the system were being divided up, why not make small pieces that could provide work for local contractors? Borrowing additional funds was the last resort because loan payments would increase the cost of operating the system later.
By the time requests for bids and quotations were re-sent in March, construction of the system was in 19 separate pieces. Several additional expenses had been discovered that would have been add-ons to the October contractor bids and raised the cost of the system to $1.1 or 1.2 million. The Team knew that about $200,000 in costs had been cut by Thomson’s redesign of the distribution lines, and $80,000 was saved (and a larger, better tank obtained) by getting the water tank directly from a manufacturer. A drastic “Option 2” with only 2 instead of 3 distribution loops was included in the bids.
Whether the system would be affordable was still unknown when a special Board of Trustees meeting began April 7. It was all dependent on much lower bids for materials and installation. As the bids were opened and read aloud, all 6 materials bids were between $120,000 and $140,000. Later analysis would no doubt show at least one to be complete. Then the installation bids were opened: $359,000 … $121,901 … $643,000 …. Everyone had their poker faces on, except when Treasurer Leanna passed a note to Mayor Ralph, “Did you bring champagne?” and he let out a stifled yelp of joy. $121,901 was almost too good to believe, and the next three days were spent making sure it was real. Every inquiry made about Robins Construction of Antonito yielded rave reviews, and a second walkthrough of the work with Randy Robins and Mike Ruybal provided a sense that they simply charge less and work faster than other contractors.
Not only are costs low enough to proceed with construction this year, but all three distribution loops will be installed. There will be ten fire hydrants strategically placed downtown and in residential neighborhoods. All construction elements except materials and the water tank will be awarded to San Luis Valley contractors.
More than two thirds of town property owners will be close enough to a water main to make municipal water service less expensive than drilling a new well. Construction is forecast to begin Monday, May 18, and the preconstruction tap fee special rate will be valid until 1pm, Friday, May 15, 2009. Those rates are $2,500 in residential zones and $3,000 in the commercial district. Regular tap fee rates are $3,500 residential and $4,000 commercial. Monthly service rates begin when the service line to the “curb” is connected on the property. Most property owners who have purchased water taps have functioning wells and will be prepared for a quick changeover to municipal water when needed. For more information or to purchase a tap, please contact Town Hall, 256-4313, as soon as possible.