Judge: City did not show ‘favoritism’ when rejecting bid of Topeka-based construction company

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

A judge has ruled that the City of Lawrence did not act improperly when it awarded a multimillion-dollar remodel of a Lawrence fire station to a construction company that was not the lowest bidder.

Champion Builders, a Topeka-based construction company, claimed that it submitted the winning bid for the project and sued the city last month to stop it from awarding the more than $5 million project to another company. Though Champion’s bid was the lowest by about $90,000, the city claims the company did not have the required experience working on historic buildings.

In Douglas County District Court on Wednesday, Judge Amy Hanley agreed with the city, saying that it established “legitimate and appropriate bidder experience” and that Champion’s bid did not meet those requirements.

“No evidence exists that would establish that the plaintiff was the lowest responsible bidder,” Hanley said, referring to phrasing in state bidding law and in city ordinance.

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. In the lawsuit subsequently filed against the city and B.A. Green, Champion alleged that the city’s decision to award B.A. Green the project was favoritism and violated state law and city ordinance requiring that projects be awarded to the “lowest responsible bid.”

Champion claimed the experience working on historic buildings was not part of the bidder qualifications and it would “suffer irreparable loss and damages” due to the city’s decision, according to the lawsuit. In its response, the city claimed that Champion did not provide the necessary documentation — requested as part of an addendum to the original bid offering — showing it had experience in the past five years working on buildings listed on the National Register of Historic Places and in the use of certain types of historic tax credits.

City Attorney Toni Wheeler told the Journal-World after the hearing that the city was satisfied with the ruling.

“We’re very pleased with the judge’s decision and her finding that the city was acting within proper bounds of bidding law,” Wheeler said. “We’re ready to move forward on the project.”

The building has been vacated in preparation for the remodel, 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.

In her ruling, Hanley also said that there was no evidence that Champion would suffer irreparable harm from the city’s decision or that the harm to Champion outweighed harm to the city.

“An injunction would cost the city and the taxpayer more money,” Hanley said. In addition to the monthly relocation costs, she also said awarding to a bidder that doesn’t meet the desired qualifications could lose the city the tax credits related to the project.

Anthony Barry, the attorney representing Champion Builders, told the Journal-World Champion was disappointed, but that it understood the judge’s ruling.

The renovation of the building is scheduled to begin this month, and Wheeler said the project would get started soon.