Editorial: Bid process has helped taxpayers

A charter ordinance enabling the city to utilize alternative construction methods will provide the city of Lawrence with greater flexibility in future major construction projects.

Still, putting projects out for bid has served the city’s pocketbook well through the years and should remain the preferred approach for most projects, even if commissioners vote to support the charter ordinance.

Commissioners will consider the charter ordinance at a meeting tonight. The amendment essentially would allow the city to utilize processes other than the traditional sealed bid process required by the state of Kansas for major construction projects. Specifically, the ordinance would allow the city to use a design-build approach, as opposed to design-bid-build.

Commissioner Lisa Larsen said she supports the charter ordinance.

“I think we ought to keep our options open for any bidding process that’s accepted by the industry,” Larsen said. “And sometimes, that takes different types of bidding methods.”

Under design-bid-build, each aspect of a construction project is put out for bid. But under design-build, a project manager, whose scope and price are agreed upon at the outset, is selected to run the project.

Still, the city should proceed with caution in choosing alternative methods such as design-build, given its track record. Simply put, the city hasn’t demonstrated that it is very adept at estimating the cost of major construction projects.

For example, in 2013, the city planned to use a no-bid process for construction of the recreation center at Rock Chalk Park. The original estimate was that it would cost $18 million to $20 million for the center. But residents protested the lack of a bid process for the project and the city ultimately reverted to a design-bid-build process. Once bids were received, none was more than $13.5 million, and the winning bid was $10.5 million. Without the public outcry, the city might have made an $8 million to $10 million mistake.

The city has used mixed approaches before in which an architect and builder are contracted to build a new site, but subcontractors bid on aspects of the project. The Lawrence Public Library was built using such an approach.

It makes sense for the city to have some flexibility in how it approaches major projects. But it also is important for commissioners and city staff to keep in mind that historically, competitive bidding has been the best way to ensure Lawrence taxpayers are getting the best pricing for city projects.