Contract raises more questions in Conway

CONWAY — Controversial plans to study the former Rose property for use as a police-fire-highway department facility began as early as Nov. 8 when the town administrator, a selectman and engineers walked the site — three weeks before Town Administrator Ed MacDonald officially began working for Conway.

The engineers came from a firm MacDonald had worked with in his previous job.

The visit was followed by a three-page proposed contract to the selectmen from R. Levesque Associates of Westfield, which describes an agreement between the town and the engineering firm, in which the firm would determine “the viability of the subject property for use as public safety/highway maintenance facility.”

Although the proposed $7,750 contract references a public safety complex, the selectmen have updated their plans to a multi-use municipal complex for the ambulance, police and fire departments, town offices and highway garage.

The selectmen have since come under scrutiny and criticism from other town boards and committees after the Planning Board discovered the selectmen quietly laying plans for the 11-acre riverfront site off Shelburne Falls Road — plans that are at odds with ideas some other committees have been considering.

Last week, the Planning Board members and about 25 other residents crowded the selectmen’s meeting room to get to the bottom of the proposal. Based on comments Selectman Rick Bean made a week earlier to the planners, they believed the selectmen were poised to sign a $12,000 contract with Levesque Associates for a feasibility study of the project.

Many residents questioned what would have happened had they not shown up. Yet, selectmen’s Chairman John O’Rourke denied they would have signed a contract without a town meeting vote and claimed talks with engineers were to gather information. He has repeatedly said “There is no contract.”

But the draft contract with Levesque implies exploration of the selectmen’s proposal was well under way.

A second consultant, architect Christian Carey of Westfield, was also referenced in Levesque’s proposed contract that wasn’t made public but a copy of which The Recorder has obtained.

“It is our understanding the town will be contracting with Christian Carey, ALA for the architectural portion of this feasibility study. RLA will work closely with Mr. Carey on this project in a collaborative effort,” the proposed contract reads.

President of Levesque Associates, Robert Levesque, said his firm does not have a contract with the town at this point.

“We conducted a site visit in an effort to quote a job for the town of Conway with the town administrator and Rick Bean. They asked us for a proposal,” Levesque said in a phone interview Monday evening. “We weren’t contracted to do any work yet.”

Levesque said he and Christian Carey visited the Rose property and the salt shed by the elementary school on Nov. 8 “so we could do a proposal.”

Levesque conducted the site visit for free, a standard practice of his company.

Levesque has not worked with Carey in the past. Levesque believes Carey has also not been awarded a contract and has not been paid money from the town.

Christian Carey has not returned repeated calls to The Recorder for comment. Based on Carey’s website, the company is a small architectural firm specializing in design, historic preservation and interiors. It has two offices, one in Vermont and one in Westfield, the same community Levesque engineers are from.

Past commercial projects include the relocation and restoration of a historical school house for the Stowe Historical Society in Vermont, a renovation of the Boys and Girls Club of Greater Westfield and the preservation of the Westminster Town Hall in Vermont.

Open bidding

Massachusetts General Law requires any project with an expected construction cost of more than $100,000 and with designer fees more than $10,000 to be publicly advertised and to go through a qualifications-based designer selection process.

The $7,750 base fee in Levesque’s proposed contract falls short of this requirement, although Bean told the planners the selectmen were poised to spend about $12,000 on consultants.

Thomas Shaw, a Conway resident who is the associate director of the Facilities Planning Division at the UMass, said the typical procedure for large projects is for municipalities to advertise an engineering job in the state central register and the local newspaper. Usually, a request for a proposal outlines the scope of services sought from the designer. Designers are then given weeks to provide proposals to the town, which evaluates the proposals based on specific criteria. This could be based on the designer’s experience or costs.

“This allows for open conversation and precludes someone from using a firm used in the past,” Shaw said.

MacDonald worked with Levesque while he was an administrator in Chester. He recommended the firm to the selectmen.

Since the Levesque proposed contract is under $10,000, the board did not have to go through the qualifications-based designer selection process. However, the state Office of the Inspector General does recommend getting quotes from at least three designers in such cases.

“The designer selection law would not be implicated if the fee is less than $10,000 at this stage of the process,” said Jack Meyers, a spokesman for the Inspector General’s Office.

Shaw said it would be legal for a town to enter into an agreement with one firm, Levesque and another with a second firm, Christian Carey, for a total more than $10,000 on a single project.

“They can enter into two separate contracts and not be violating Mass. General Law,” Shaw said.

According to the unofficial Planning Board meeting minutes for Dec. 6, Selectman Bean “presented a draft contract committing the town to this study which is to be considered at the selectmen’s meeting as well ... The anticipated cost is $12,000 for a schematic and research into all aspects of the permitting,” Planning Board Clerk David Barten wrote in the minutes.

The Levesque proposition is for $7,750 but the proposed contract notes that doesn’t include “other job-related expenses.”

The amount the selectmen would have paid to Christian Carey for building design is unknown, and the town administrator and selectmen declined comment for this story.

When asked to discuss the proposed contract, O’Rourke responded in an email, “There is no engineering contract on the Town Hall project.”

The board again stated there was no contract this past Monday night.

The proposed Levesque contract states their scope of services is based on the engineers’ review of the information supplied by the selectmen’s office and a site visit on Nov. 8.

MacDonald and Bean accompanied the engineers on that site visit, although MacDonald did not officially start his job until Nov. 26.

According to an Oct. 24 email from Bean to town employees, MacDonald was chosen as the new town administrator and would finish out his 30-day notice in his former position as Chester town administrator. Before he could start full-time in November, Bean wrote, MacDonald would “come in on Thursdays to become familiar with our town and its government.”

You can reach Kathleen McKiernan at:
or 413-772-0261 ext. 268.

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