Town Signs Builder For Police Station

By Julien Vernet

Hampton Union, Sunday, July 20, 2003

HAMPTON - Town officials emerged from a three-hour meeting with David R. Whitcher Builder Inc. on Thursday, with a signed contract for the construction of the new police station.

"It's been a long time in coming, but everything is on track," said James Barrington, Hampton's town manager.

All parties came to a consensus on value engineering items, which had been a subject of contention in earlier negotiations. The contract specified that the three value items would save the town $77,955 on the $5.2 million project. The savings will come from Whitcher substituting certain construction materials for more affordable ones.

Selectman Brian Warburton was elated when he received word of the signing.

"I think it's great. I had hoped for, and felt pretty confident, that everything would work out," he said.

The construction's official start date is July 28, but Whitcher is expected to begin moving on site sometime next week. The signing follows Monday's selectmen's meeting, where apprehension about David Whitcher, the project's general contractor, was vocalized.

Whitcher, of Strafford, won the contract on June 16 for the 22,500-square-foot police station and was expected to begin construction this Tuesday. But the contract signing was delayed because of concerns about the builder's competence and compliance.

Barrington said the town postponed signing the contract on July 3, when it discovered a discrepancy between its insurance requirements and those provided by Whitcher.

"We had concerns, because the amount of insurance that they were proposing was significantly different, and less than, what we had required in the bid documents," Barrington said.

Whitcher officials contend that the insurance issue, which has been resolved, stemmed from confusion surrounding the town's insurance requirements.

"I believe there was some misunderstanding of the wordage in the specifications," said Stuart Mitchell, Whitcher's operations manager, adding that he "didn't think it was a problem."

According to Barrington, Hampton decided to give Whitcher's proposal some latitude after the town's consultations determined that the requirements were "unusual for the insurance industry." Ultimately, Whitcher and the town compromised, and the issue was put to rest.

But the next signing, which was slated for last Monday, was canceled after concern arose that Whitcher has not been forthcoming with its value engineering assessments.

Barrington said Kaestle Boos Associates, the police station's architect, told him that Whitcher was "feeding (Kaestle Boos) information in spoonfuls."

Barrington said Kaestle Boos received Whitcher's value engineering assessment - a project review that makes cost-cutting recommendations - and approved some suggestions but rejected others that compromised the building's quality. But Kaestle Boos told Barrington that Whitcher was not supplying Kaestle Boos with information it requested.

"The information the architect led us to believe is that the contractor was not sharing enough information," Barrington said, adding that the matter had been confused by "the contractor's standpoint that the architect was not giving it enough information to help them."

After yesterday's meeting, Barrington said all parties had agreed that, "despite the somewhat rocky start," they were al* looking forward" to working on the project together.

The Hampton Police Department currently occupies a 40-year-old building - often described as cramped, molding, decrepit and generally inadequate - on Ashworth Avenue.

Plans for the new police facility have been under way since 62 percent of Hampton voters approved a $4.9 million warrant article for the project in March 2000. But the town shelved the project when an lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of a 1999 amendment to the state ballot law threatened to nullify the vote. The amendment lowered the article passing vote from two-thirds to three-fifths.

The delay added $1.3 million to the project, which was approved last year.

The town is expecting the police complex to be finished and ready for occupation 450 days from the first day of construction.