Mansura may put brakes on railroad museum project


   What can take nine years to create can be undone in nine minutes -- and three votes.
   That scenario came close to occurring at the Mansura Town Council meeting on Nov. 14.
   Wayne Coco, the Simmesport architect who designed the project to renovate and remodel the old train depot as a museum, gave a brief update on the project. 
   After nine years of planning and waiting for the promised money to be available, most expected that agenda item to consist of Coco’s report on the bid-opening, a recommendation to award to the lowest bidding contractor, and a quick 5-0 vote to proceed with the project.
   Hold your iron horses.
   Scallan Contractor was the low bid at $294,800 -- about $130,000 lower than the next lowest bid.
  Coco noted that the price was “only” $17,600 more than the initial estimate made nine years ago. When he added that the town would be responsible for that $17,600 overage -- in addition to its local matching funds and paying all architect’s fees -- you could almost hear the steam brakes whooshing from the council seats.
   “I think we should just give the grant back,” Councilwoman Lucille Hayes said.
$31,000 spent or owed
   Mayor Kenneth Pickett pointed out that the town has already spent $19,000 over the past few years to get the project to this point. It still owes $12,000 in architect’s fees, which has to be paid whether the project goes forward or not. That $31,000 will have been spent for nothing if the town pulls the plug on the project at this point, he noted.
   “If the town decides not to pursue the project, I will let the state know,” Coco said.
  Pickett asked the council not to vote on the matter that night, but to “think, wonder and pray about it” and make a decision at the December meeting.
   Coco was asked if the wide gap between Scallan and its closest competitor should be a concern.
  “Were they bidding on the same thing?” Pickett asked.
   Coco assured that all three contractors were bidding on the same project under the same specifications. He said one reason for the large difference is that Scallan is a local contractor “and the other two are from outside of Louisiana.”                        
  Scallan “also tried very hard to keep the price down for the town,” he added.
  Coco said plans for the museum have been in the works for nine years. He got involved in 2014.
  “We finished the plans in three months and the state has reviewed those plans for two years,” he said.
Recommends approval
   After the meeting, Pickett said he will be recommending the council move forward with the project. He said several individuals have offered exhibits that highlight the community’s history as a railroad town, including its role in the so-called “Orphan Train” in the early 20th Century.
The mayor said too much planning has been done and expectations have been raised too high for the town to turn back now.
   The $277,200 federal Transportation Enhancement Fund grant was approved in 2007, “but it took forever to get the paperwork in order,” Coco said. The grant is administered through the state Department of Transportation & Development. The grant requires the town to pay all architect’s fees and a $13,860 local match for the $277,200 in federal funds. 
   With the project coming in $17,600 over the grant amount, Mansura’s total local cost for the museum project would be $62,460 -- half of which has already been spent or is owed.