Modesto city bus building moves forward

Plans to build a long-stalled bus maintenance yard moved forward Tuesday night, but designing the project probably will cost twice the original price.

The Modesto City Council voted 5-1 to approve a contract for as much as $716,112 with Oakland's VBN Architects. Councilwoman Janice Keating voted against the contract. Councilman Will O'Bryant was absent.

VBN will pick up where another architecture firm, New York's Parsons Brinckerhoff Quade and Douglas Inc., left off three years ago.

The council canceled Parsons Brinckerhoff 's contract after costs ballooned out of control. Parsons Brinckerhoff's original contract was for $590,000. Four years into the project, it said it needed another $354,000 to finish the job.

That experience led the city to craft a new policy to keep a closer eye on contract costs. Now the council can halt contracts if budgets go overboard.

It was clear at Tuesday's meeting that money worries still dog the project. City staff members were careful to explain why they chose VBN for the job. Another firm had more experience building bus maintenance facilities, but that came with a price that was too high, Deputy Public Works Director Richard Ulm told the council. The more experienced firm wanted about $1.1 million for the job. VBN submitted the second-highest bid.

Keating needled city staff for not choosing the lowest bidder for a project that seems relatively simple to design. She also questioned the value of spending $136,000 on a contract with Sacramento's RBF Consulting to act as project managers.

"Considering that we've had so many bumps in the road with this project and considering that it is, after all, a design of a building, and you're paying someone $136,000 to oversee it, couldn't we save $94,000 by going with the lower bidder?"

Transit Manager Fred Cavanah said designing a bus maintenance facility is more complicated than it looks. The building has unique plumbing and equipment needs, Cavanah said.

Construction could be complete in fall 2011, city engineer Dean Phillips said.

The new facility will replace the 92-year-old maintenance yard at Eighth and Washington streets. That building is too small to accommodate the city's bigger buses. The concrete floor sinks when too much weight is placed on it, Cavanah said.

Bee staff writer Leslie Albrecht can be reached at or 578-2378. Follow her at

Related stories from Merced Sun-Star