Penny Wise, Pound Foolish

For months, the Town of Londonderry expendable trust fund has been paying for repairs to various town buildings. The north and south fire stations, both of which are far from old, regularly need repairs for work that should have been taken care of in the original construction.
Indeed, for the north fire station, discussion at last week’s Town Council meeting pointed out that the town chose the low bid and allowed work out of spec – not to specifications – on the flashing and the start of the roof shingles to get the project in under budget.
There’s plenty of truth in the old adage that you get what you pay for, and Londonderry seems to have had trouble in recent years learning that lesson.
But it’s far from just a Londonderry problem. The Hampstead School District, for example, anticipates asking voters to approve funding for work at Central School to replace the exterior wall in the area where preschool children are dropped off and picked up. Currently, that 1968-era portion of the building, composed of concrete masonry unit construction, and the windows and framed openings do not have sufficient insulation to prevent car fumes from leaking into the school. Annual repairs are made to minimize the leaks, admittedly a Band-Aid approach. Thus the need to ask voters to fund a major project.
Not so many years ago, the Londonderry School District had to do significant work at South Elementary School to address a problem with construction materials that led to the growth of mold. Again, the problem was the original materials.
Whether we’re dealing with an unlucky spate of shoddy workmanship or low-end materials or allowing out-of-spec work to save money, in the long run towns and school districts – translate that as taxpayers – are the victims of this false economy.
Getting voters to approve funding building repairs, construction, and additions is no easy task. Putting the lowest practical amount on the ballot to get a yes vote is an understandable goal. But failing to be realistic about what is needed to produce work that will last longer than the warranty costs taxpayers far more in the long run, and leaves them with questions about whether local officials knew what they were doing in the first place.
Are too many construction waivers granted? Do the people writing the bid guidelines know what they are doing?
Now’s as good a time as any to review the bid process for major projects so that taxpayers aren’t nickeled and dimed to destitution because of what should have been done, but wasn’t.

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