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Archive for Thursday, September 30, 1993

BUNGLED BIDS

September 30, 1993

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Confusion over bids for local school roofing projects doesn't give taxpayers the greatest confidence that the millions of dollars approved for school improvements are being well-spent.

It is amazing that Monday night, after a board member criticized bids for roof work at Central Junior High School as unethical and after the district's construction supervisor agreed that the bid specifications were inappropriate and after the architect for a planned renovation for Central said the work that was bid was not the work that most needed to be done, the Lawrence school board nonetheless unanimously voted to approve a bid for the roof work, which will cost the district nearly $49,000.

The decision came after much discussion of bid specifications that required the use of roofing materials manufactured by a Lee's Summit, Mo., company, which, coincidentally helped draw up the specifications. The consultant hired by the district to oversee other building projects had agreed to review the specs but failed to do so. The architect for the Central renovation was cut out of the loop entirely, giving him no opportunity to comment on the bidding process or on what roofing work should be done.

Despite this stunning lack of communication and calls from several contractors questioning the specs, the board decided it had heard enough and that there was no need to rebid the project, even though specifications that allowed for alternative roofing materials might have resulted in lower bids.

Rebidding the project wouldn't have been unprecedented. In fact, since March, the board has approved rebidding three other projects involving roofing, heating, ventilation, air conditioning and school busing because of confusion over specifications. One of those cases involved circumstances very similar to those the board faced Monday.

A contract for roofing East Heights School, Sunset Hill School and West Junior High School was rebid after a contractor ignored the bid specifications and came in with a much lower bid by using a roofing material other than what was called for. His bid was about a third lower than the lowest bid that used the material called for in the specifications.

The district, however, apparently didn't learn much from the earlier experience, either about preparing bid specifications or about the wisdom of rebidding projects when a potential cost savings is at stake.

There is no particular reason to think the most recent bid flap involves any under-the-table deals, but it leaves taxpayers wondering about either the ethics or the competence of the people dealing with the bidding process. Low bids negotiated by the district and accepted Monday from general contractors for two new elementary schools were below budget and are probably a good deal for taxpayers, but the roof shenanigans creates some doubt.

The glitch in the specifications isn't as disturbing to taxpayers as the fact that board members simply overlooked the irregularities in the process and approved the contract anyway. Were they that convinced that rebidding the project wouldn't save the district money?

It doesn't give taxpayers a warm feeling about how their money is being handled.

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