WESTMINSTER — If any doubt lingered about the star-crossed nature of the City Hallexpansion project, Monday's meeting of the council may well have purged it.
In less than an hour of talk on the polemical $1.6 millionplan to add 10,000 square feet to the building, the council:
* Refused to quash its September motion requesting bids for preliminary design of the project.
* Changed its mind and rescinded themotion.
* Then decided to order a request for bids anyway.
In the end, progress on the expansion was pushed back at least until theend of the year, and probably even longer.
"Would this council like to get off this merry-go-round and do something about this contract?" said an exasperated Council President William F. Haifley, a supporter of the addition.
"For each month that we delay, we know it's going to cost us," Haifley said.
The root of Monday's discussion is found in the Sept. 9 council vote to seek bids for the preliminary architectural and engineering plans for the renovation.
At that meeting, City Planning Director Thomas B. Beyard recommended that the council accept a bid of $130,000 from Cho, Wilkes & Benn Inc., the Baltimore architectural firm that conducted the recent study of city government space needs.
But some council members, along with Mayor W.Benjamin Brown, argued that additional bids should be sought becauseof the size and cost of the project. The council then voted to seek bids.
However that action later sparked concern among city administrators that Cho, Wilkes & Benn might be left at a competitive disadvantage because its bid was already on the table. There was concern among city officials that the architectural firms' price could easily be undercut by subsequent bidders.
"Cho, Wilkes & Benn was compromised," said Brown. "They put a bid on the table because we told them to."
But Haifley, who is eager to get the project started, advocated that the council accept Beyard's recommendation to go with Cho, Wilkes & Benn.
Others wanted to investigate other bids.
"How can I, as a councilman, know it is a reasonable amount?" Councilman Kenneth A. Yowan said of Cho, Wilkes & Benn's price. "At least we would have something to go on. I don't see how that's going to hurt us."
Said Brown, "If we say we got on this horse two years ago . . . and we're going to stay on it, that's not the wisest way to go."
Yet the city officials say they want to be fair to Cho, Wilkes & Benn becausethey have been pleased with the firm's work to date.
The council voted Monday to solicit proposals for the work from six companies, while stressing that the price would not be the determining factor.
The council's attorney, John Walsh, said the city is not obligated toaccept the lowest bid because the city's charter does not include formal bidding procedures.
Monday's go-around was the latest in the continuing wrangle over how to resolve the City Hall space crunch.
In August a divided council voted to move ahead with the $1.6 million addition and renovation to City Hall. The plan the council approvedis one of three suggestions included in the $40,000 study delivered in May by Cho, Wilkes & Benn.
The addition is the first phase of aplan that ultimately would include construction of a 17,000-square-foot building, resulting in a price for the project of more than $3.4 million.
For months, the mayor and council debated whether to build a new facility or to rent space, and then whether to pay cash for additional space or borrow money.
On Monday, however, the debate centered on how to proceed with the project, not whether to.
"This has nothing to do with whether we build it or not," said Brown, who perhaps has been the strongest opponent of the plan to build an addition.