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Highland Homes bid well under estimate

The area within the red border would be included in the City of Morris' plan to replace and build infrastructure in the Highland Homes Addition this summer.

By Tom Larson

Sun Tribune

Because of the poor economic climate, engineers and City of Morris officials expected that bids might come in low for work planned this summer in the Highland Homes Addition.

Even they are pleasantly surprised.

The city opened bids for the project estimated to cost about $2 million and learned that the likely successful bidder was almost $435,000 under the estimate.

The Morris City Council approved a low bid for the Highland Home project, and work is expected to begin in May. The council accepted a bid from Kuechle Underground, of Kimball, at its meeting Tuesday.

The city at one point debated whether to move ahead with the project this year after Local Government Aid from the state had been reduced for 2008 and Gov. Tim Pawlenty's budget projections called for further aid reductions in 2009 and 2010.

"Based on the bids we got, this is a tremendous opportunity," said City Manager Blaine Hill, "so we're going to push forward with it."

Kuechle Underground submitted the low bid of the 10 bids for the project, which entails new water, sewer, curb and gutter, and the construction of storm sewers for the addition. All 10 bids came in under the engineer's estimates, and seven came in more than $100,000 under estimates.

Kuechle bid $1,547,316. Breitbach Construction, of Elrosa, submitted the second lowest bid at $1,616,671, and Riley Brothers was third at $1,634,834.

The City Council, which meets Tuesday, is expected to approve the bid since laws require cities to accept the lowest responsible bid.

"I understand Kuechle is a responsible bidder," Hill stated in a memo to the council.

The Kuechle bid should reduce the amount the city bonds for the project, and could reduce the assessment costs for property owners. However, Hill stated that over the years the city has "subsidized" homeowners to keep special assessments comparable to past, similar projects.

Under original estimates, the projects was to cost about $2.6 million and property owners, on average, would have been assessed at about $10,500. But since those October 2008 estimates, engineers learned that Keyrow Apartments receives its water from another city source and that component won't be part of the current project, which also could affect assessments.

The Highland Homes project will be unique from other infrastructure work because the area has never had storm sewer service, and the configuration of the neighborhood will make the logistics of the construction more involved.

Jeff Kuhn, the city's consulting engineer from Widseth, Smith and Nolting, was proven correct when he said last fall that downturns in the economy could positively affect the bottom line. Construction contractors are eager to secure fewer and fewer jobs which has led to a much more competitive bidding process.

Work completed late last year in downtown Morris and near the University of Minnesota, Morris campus was significantly less expensive than original estimates indicated.

The Highland Homes Addition is bordered by Park Lane on the east, Westview Drive on the west, Sunnyslope Road on the south and Westwood Acres on the north. Highland Drive and Parkway Terrace also are included in the project. Two intersections in the area also will be narrowed to make them more "travel friendly," Kuhn has said.

Highland Homes work is long overdue, according to Hill and council member Bill Storck, who worked in the city's Public Works department 37 years before he joined the council.

When the plans were unveiled last fall, Storck called the addition a "quick development" in the early 1960s that almost immediately experienced problems with broken water mains and poor drainage due to the lack of a storm sewer system.

Drainage has been a constant complaint of many Highland Homes residents, especially following heavy rains. Since no storm sewer was installed, surface runoff is the only way to get water off properties, which caused problems in the area and in other neighborhoods downstream.