Lawrence City Commission to consider alternatives to traditional bidding process

Lawrence City Hall, 6 E. Sixth St., is pictured on May 3, 2016.

At their meeting Tuesday, Lawrence City Commissioners will decide whether the city should be allowed to use a process that deviates from the standard sealed-bid procedure for future construction projects.

City staff is proposing a charter ordinance — which requires four votes to pass — that would specifically enable the city to utilize alternative construction methods. The charter ordinance is required because state law calls for a sealed-bid process.

Vice Mayor Lisa Larsen said she is supportive of adopting the ordinance. She said the traditional design-bid-build process is definitely a great tool, but that the city shouldn’t tie its hands to one method.

“I think we ought to keep our options open for any bidding process that’s accepted by the industry,” said Larsen, adding that the city doesn’t want to close itself off from the highest quality work. “And sometimes that takes different types of bidding methods.”

City staff is recommending that the city consider alternative methods on future projects, which could include the upcoming police headquarters project. Those include several options, such as the Design-Build method, where a designer and contractor team are selected at the beginning of the process based on qualifications and a price set instead of opening the project for bids.

Commissioner Leslie Soden said she has concerns with changing the city charter to accommodate such methods. She said she thinks the Commission is still rebuilding public trust after the controversial Rock Chalk Park project, tax issues with The Oread hotel and the resignation of former mayor Jeremy Farmer.

“I have concerns with changing the city charter to accommodate that,” Soden said. “I think it’s a process that we are able to use now if we choose to.”

The decision regarding the alternate bidding methods originally came before the Commission last month when only four commissioners were present, but it was deferred at the request of outgoing Commissioner Mike Amyx. Amyx said at that time that he is not in favor of the idea, but that it was “probably unfair” for him to vote against it given the circumstances.

As of Friday afternoon, recently seated Commissioner Jennifer Ananda said she is undecided on whether she supports adopting a charter ordinance to allow for alternate construction methods. She said she wants to understand more about the background, and to weigh all potential consequences.

“I think that we as a city can’t be closed off to hearing about alternative methods, and so our job is to consider intended and unintended consequences in making that kind of a decision,” Ananda said. “And so I’m just trying to think through what those could be.”

The City Commission will convene at 4:30 p.m. Tuesday at City Hall, 6 E. Sixth St.