Deciding that there was no fair way to handle the current bids for the heating and air conditioning work at the Barton County Road and Bridge Department shop, the County Commission Monday morning voted to toss out all four proposals and rebid the project.
This Monday’s decision came after nearly an hour of sometimes tense debate.
The issue spawned another long discussion last Monday morning centering around the decision to opt for a more traditional forced-air or a ductless system. The wording of the request for proposal caused the controversy when it specified forced-air, but left the door open for alternatives by including the verbiage “meet or exceed.”
“The one thing we can agree on is that we screwed up big time on this bid,” Commissioner Jennifer Schartz said. It was Schartz who moved to start from scratch with new bid specifications.
It would be unfair to just rebid the job since everyone’s bids are already on the table, she said. But, new specs would allow everyone to compete on the same playing field.
Schartz even suggested hiring an objective outside engineer “who doesn’t have a dog in the fight” to create the specs. She felt that a lot of the information they have received has been biased and felt there may have been conflicts of interest.
“We still don’t know what is best,” she said.
So, by a unanimous vote, the commission rejected the original bids and instructed Road and Bridge Director Dale Phillips to come with new guidelines.
Using specs drafted by M&F Plumbing of Great Bend, Phillips had sought the first bids. They received four proposals – A&F Enterprises of Hoisington, and Comfort Pro, Moeder Plumbing and Rube’s Heating and Air Conditioning, all of Great Bend.
The low bid of $42,585 came from Rube’s and called for the installation of a new-style Mitsubishi ductless system. Moeder presented the second lowest bid of $54,592 and involved a conventional duct-based unit.
A vote to approve the more expensive forced-air system stalled on a two-two vote, forcing the commission to table the matter until this week. The tie-breaking vote would have been in the hands of Commissioner Homer Kruckenberg, but he left early to attend a funeral.
Commissioner Alicia Straub moved Monday morning to accept the Rube’s bid, which was seconded by Schartz. They were the two who voted against the Moeder bid last week.
“We have to give credit where credit is due,” Straub said. Rube’s owner Brian Pedigo proposed something different and exposed a flaw in the process.
“In all fairness, we have four bids,” she said. Pedigo’s option did meet or exceed the specs.
However, this motion failed by 3-2 with commissioners Don Davis, Kruckenberg and Chairman Kenny Schremmer voting against it.
Davis then moved to approve the Moeder bid.
But, before there was a second, Schartz suggested the rebid and Davis withdrew his motion.
The project included the replacement of shop heaters and the installation of new heating, ventilation and air conditioning in selected work areas. Currently, there is no building-wide climate control and many of the units currently in use are over 20 years old.
Also included is the updating of the buildings original electrical system and the replacement of ceiling-mounted heaters in the service bay area.
A different prospective
Last Tuesday, Schremmer, Kruckenberg and Davis visited the shop to see first hand. During that visit, Schremmer drew upon his 11 years in the HVAC business and saw possible alternatives to the received proposals.
After looking at the building, Schremmer became concerned about the bid totals. “They seemed a little high.”
The forced-air bids called for holes to be cut in a concrete ceiling so new duct work could be installed. Schremmer believes a different method could be utilized, eliminating this need and, thus, lowering the price.
This also played into the notion the project should be bid again.
“Now, I’m concerned about Moeder’s bid,” Schartz said after hearing what Schremmer had learned. Perhaps all the bids could have been lower.
In the end, commissioners said they hoped this incident doesn’t keep contractors from bidding projects in the future. Potential bidders may lack confidence in the county if it asks for one set of specs and doesn’t follow them, Schremmer said.
“We followed all the policies,” Phillips said of the bid process. This is the first time the “meet or exceed” has caused any problems.
Perhaps, Schartz said, these policies need to be reexamined. Maybe all requests for proposals should go through County Administrator Richard Boeckman before being released and there should be a pre-bid conference with interested bidders.