Topeka-based construction company sues City of Lawrence over bid dispute, claims ‘favoritism’

Fire Station No. 1, at 746 Kentucky St., is pictured on July 26, 2016.

A Topeka construction company claims it submitted the winning bid for the multimillion-dollar remodel of a Lawrence fire station, and is suing the city to stop it from awarding the project to another company.

At its meeting Dec. 5, the City Commission awarded Lawrence-based B.A. Green Construction a $5.33 million bid to remodel Fire Station No. 1 and the Senior Resource Center downtown. Topeka-based Champion Builders submitted a bid that was about $90,000 less, but the commission followed a recommendation from project architects that the city reject the bid because Champion did not show it has experience working on historic buildings.

In a lawsuit filled Dec. 15 in Douglas County District Court against the city and B.A. Green, Champion alleges that the city’s decision to award B.A. Green the project is favoritism and violates state law and city ordinance requiring projects be awarded to the “lowest responsible bid.” Champion claims the experience working on historic buildings was not part of the bidder qualifications and it will “suffer irreparable loss and damages” due to the city’s decision, according to the lawsuit.

In a response filed earlier this month, the city denied Champion’s claims. Specifically, the city claims that Champion did not provide the necessary documentation — requested as part of an addendum to the original bid offering — showing it has experience in the past five years working on buildings that are listed on the National Register of Historic Places and in the use of certain types of historic tax credits. As a result, the city claims Champion’s bid did not meet the requirements established by city ordinance.

City Attorney Toni Wheeler said the city has the ability to specify qualifications it thinks are important for its contractors to have.

“I think it’s set forth in our brief that it is a historic structure on the national register,” Wheeler said. “We want to make sure that the work is done well and that we have the best chance of getting those historic tax credits.”

Champion Builders, however, states in its claim that it has done work on “historic sites,” namely the Harley Davidson building in Topeka, though the building is not on state or federal registries, according to the lawsuit. The suit states that Champion’s bid should not have been rejected and that the tax credit program is “merely an accounting function.” The Journal-World’s call to Barry Law Offices, the firm representing Champion Builders, was not immediately returned Wednesday.

The renovation of the building is scheduled to begin this month, and the city is spending close to $18,000 per month to temporarily relocate fire, medical and senior center personnel, according to the city’s response.

An initial hearing in the case took place Tuesday, and a subsequent hearing is set for Jan. 17 at 10 a.m.