Saturday January 12, 2013

At this point, we don’t know what financial difficulties Baybutt Construction was facing that forced it to stop paying subcontractors on jobs around the region that Baybutt was overseeing.

But what we do know is people working on jobs in Brattleboro, Rockingham and Keene, N.H., are owed payment for work performed on those projects.

Most of those subcontractors and vendors will get paid eventually, but there are questions as to when those working on the Rockingham Free Public Library renovation might get their money.

Subs on the Brattleboro Food Co-op project, the renovation of the state office building in Brattleboro and the Keene Fire Station will get the money owed them because project owners made sure that Baybutt had purchased payment and performance bonds before the work was allowed to start.

These bonds are basically insurance policies meant to cover the costs of a project if a general contractor defaults.

But for some reason, someone in Rockingham dropped the ball and didn’t double-check Baybutt’s claim that it had purchased the bonds for the library renovation.

"Somewhere in the wording of the contract, something fell through the cracks," said Bellows Falls/Rockingham Municipal Manager Tim Cullenen.

On Thursday, the Rockingham Selectboard issued a notice to Baybutt that it was terminating the contract. Baybutt has seven days to respond.

About $900,000 of the project’s $2.9 million projected cost has already been paid to Baybutt, but until all the accounting is done, it’s not quite clear how much of that money should have made its way to subs and vendors.

Until the subs and the vendors receive the money that is owed them, they refuse to go back to work on the job, and who can blame them?

The right thing for the town to do would be to pay the money owed out of the project budget, hire a new contractor and get the renovation back on track. Because the municipality is at fault for not guaranteeing a payment bond was in place, its Rockingham’s responsibility to make good on the work already done.

The subs and vendors shouldn’t be required to put their names on a long list of creditors awaiting payment from Baybutt, especially when it’s unclear whether Baybutt will be able to secure the financing necessary to get out from under the debt that has forced it to close its doors.

If Baybutt doesn’t respond to the seven-day notice, a new general contractor should be hired without delay and payment should be made on all outstanding invoices.

Obviously, if and when a new general contractor is hired, we’re sure town officials will double- and triple-check to make sure payment and performance bonds are in place.