Pottawatomie County gives bid for law center to Topeka firm

By The Mercury

Despite allegations of a flawed bidding process, the County Commission Monday approved a contract with KBS Constructors, Topeka, as general contractor for the Pottawatomie County Justice Center.

The commission approved the contract, 2-1, with Commissioner Pat Weixelman opposed because of the cost of adding geothermal heating and cooling to the project, as well as confusion in the bidding process.

“It would be lovely on this big of a project to have a unanimous vote, but it would also be lovely to have a project that doesn’t cost an extra $1.2 million,” Weixelman said. “It’s not about the project, it’s about the extra cost and the confusion in the bidding process.”

The KBS bid for the project was $11,827,731 — a base bid of $11,246,886, plus $562,690 for the geothermal alternate, and $18,137 for a second alternate of installing a sewage grinder pump.

The engineer’s estimate for the justice center was $12.2 million. The facility, to be built north of the current courthouse at Westmoreland, will combine into one facility all county law enforcement functions — jail, sheriff’s office, courtrooms, county attorney and district court offices.

Earlier in the day, commissioners discussed with County Counselor John Watt concerns expressed over the bidding process by two general contractors and one sub-contractor. Those concerns were aired at last Monday’s meeting, when commissioners asked for the complaints in writing for review and response by the architect.

After reviewing the written complaints last Tuesday, Dan Rowe of Treanor Architects determined there was no impropriety in the bidding process.

“The architect has said the bid process was above-board and there was nothing wrong with the process,” Watt told commissioners.  “You’ve had a good deal of griping from contractors and a sub-contractor, and it’s been phrased to make it seem like the bidding process was flawed.

“This is a big project with a lot of money involved,” Watt went on. “Contractors want to get the job, sub-contractors want to get the job, and that may be the reason there’s been so much noise surrounding this.”

Complaints over the bidding process were expressed by Murray & Sons Construction, Topeka, and Cheney Construction, Manhattan — both general contractors — as well as Reid Plumbing, Manhattan, a sub-contractor.

Murray & Sons submitted the low base bid for the project, but said it would have to withdraw if the commission included the geothermal alternate in the project because of a miscalculation.

When the commission voted to include the geothermal, as well as a second alternate, KBS became the low bidder, beating Cheney’s bid by about $100,000.

The contractors alleged that KBS engaged in “bid shopping” for a sub-contractor after the bids were opened, but Watt said there is no legal requirement that prohibits that.

“It’s more a matter of fairness than legality. Both Murray and KBS wanted to do it,” Watt said, noting that he saw no basis for legal claims on the part of Murray or Cheney.

“And you don’t have a dog in Mr. Reid’s fight,” he said. “If a sub has a complaint, it’s with the contractor, not with the county.”

After reviewing the complaints, Watt put three options before the commission: accept Murray & Sons’ low base bid without the geothermal alternate; accept the low KBS bid with the geothermal alternate; or reject all bids and rebid the project.

In approving the contract with KBS Monday, commissioners reaffirmed their decision to stick with the geothermal system.

“I feel like some people in this room have tried to bully us into doing something we didn’t want to do, and I don’t like that,” said Commissioner Stan Hartwich. “Deep down in my gut, I think geothermal is the way to go, and I think 25 years from now whoever’s sitting up here will say we saved the taxpayers some money.”

Commission Chairman Gary Yenzer agreed. “We all looked at it, we studied it, and we made a decision,” he said. “If we rebid it, the price will go up.”

Prior to approving the contract with KBS, John Collinson, estimator for Reid Plumbing, presented figures which he said “gives the appearance of favoritism” in the bidding process.

“As a county commission, you’ve got to make sure it’s fair and everyone follows the rules,” Collinson said.

As with the complaints aired at last week’s meeting, the commission did not respond to the allegations.

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