Pottawatomie County hears complaints on bid process

By The Mercury

Two general contractors and one sub-contractor aired complaints Monday about the bidding process for the new Pottawatomie County Justice Center.

Representatives of Murray & Sons Construction, Topeka, Cheney Construction, Manhattan, and Reid Plumbing, Heating and Air-Conditioning, Manhattan, voiced their complaints at the weekly meeting of the Pott County Commission.

The commission did not respond to the complaints Monday, but rather heeded the advice of the county counselor in asking for the complaints to be put in writing and forwarded to both the commission and the project architect for future response.  

“If these folks are here to voice concerns about the bidding process, it is my suggestion to the commission that those complaints be put in writing to the architect with a copy to the commission,” Counselor John Watt advised the commission before the contractors spoke.

“There is a legal risk in give-and-take between the commission and the contractors who bid on the project,” Watt went on. “You would be better advised to take the concerns in writing and respond through the architect.”

The contractors alleged that KBS Constructors, Topeka, the firm which was awarded the justice center bid at the commission’s January 30 meeting, changed sub-contractors for the geothermal heating and cooling alternate to the project.

“KBS used my numbers, but as far as I know, they’re planning to use Central (Mechanical),” said Tony Reid of Reid Plumbing.

Representatives of Murray & Sons and Cheney Construction echoed that concern.

“The number of bidders on this speaks well of the project,” said Mike Gibson of Murray & Sons. “Our goal is to respect your decision, but if a contractor is allowed to change sub-contractors, we’d like to be able to do the same.”

Murray & Sons and Cheney submitted the two lowest base bids for the justice center project, while the KBS base bid was third lowest. Following the bid opening January 17, however, owner Gene Murray said a miscalculation on his company’s geothermal alternate would force him to withdraw his bid if the commission chose to include it in the project.

The commission decided last Monday to include the geothermal alternate, as well as a second alternate, in the project, leaving KBS Constructors as low bidder, beating Cheney’s bid by about $100,000.

“If we can change the (geothermal) alternate, we’ll do the job,” Murray said Monday.

The commission voted 2-1 last Monday to award the bid to KBS for a total of $11,827,731. Commissioners Gary Yenzer and Stan Hartwich voted in favor, with Commissioner Pat Weixelman opposed, due to the inclusion of the geothermal alternate and a subsequent cost increase of more than $1 million in the overall project.

While commissioners did not respond to the contractors’ allegations Monday, Watt said, “the architect has advised you the bid process was appropriate, reasonable and above board.”

Watt and County Administrator Robert Reece were scheduled to meet with Dan Rowe of Treanor Architects Tuesday morning at Topeka. Weixelman also expressed interest in attending the meeting.

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