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Bids to convert former Farmland fertilizer site into new business park come in far lower than expected


If you have about 450 acres of an abandoned fertilizer plant, now is apparently a good time to convert it into a business park.

The city is in the process of awarding two key construction contracts to convert the former Farmland Industries fertilizer plant on the east edge of Lawrence into a business park. And both bids for the contract came back well below what the city was expecting.

Last week the city awarded a $4.98 million bid to Lawrence-based R.D. Johnson Excavating for street construction, waterline installation and lot grading at the site. The city’s engineers had estimated the work to come in at $8.16 million. That’s a difference of almost 40 percent.

This week, commissioners are scheduled to accept bids to install the necessary sewer lines for the site. The low bid is from Amino Brothers at $601,089. The city’s engineers had estimated a cost of $1.41 million. That’s a difference of almost 60 percent.

I guess that is why you take bids.

City officials are hoping other construction firms are as hungry as these. The city in the next week or so is set to approve a set of bids for the $18 million library expansion project. Those bids have already come in, and my understanding is interest was extremely high by contractors.

On May 14, the city will be getting bids on an even larger project: the $25 million city recreation center. We’ll see how hungry recreation center builders are. But what we won’t see are any bids for the infrastructure work on that project.

The city negotiated a deal with KU Endowment officials and Thomas Fritzel’s Bliss Sports that calls for the recreation center building to be bid through the city’s normal bid process. But the infrastructure work for the KU and city project — things like streets, sewers, waterlines and parking lots — won’t be bid through the city’s open bidding process. Instead, Fritzel’s Bliss Sports will use its preferred contractors and will negotiate a price for that work. I’m sure the city will make Fritzel aware of these bids, assuming the price hasn’t already been fully determined. (Some dirt-moving work is under way at the site.)

The city has an interest to pass these bids along because the city likely will be paying for a portion of that infrastructure work. The Rock Chalk Park deal calls for the city to pay for 100 percent of the cost to build the recreation center building. The city then will pay for infrastructure work up until a point that the city’s total cost on the project reaches $25 million. So, if the city’s recreation center bid comes in at $19.9 million, which is the current estimate by the city, then the city will pay $5.1 million for the infrastructure/parking work. (I previously had said $7 million, which shows why I don't have a career in math.) That means the city would pay a little less than half of the infrastructure/parking costs that are estimated at $13.5 million. Some people have said that sounds about right, since the infrastructure will serve both the city-owned property and the property that will house the KU track, softball and soccer facilities.

But as the Farmland project has shown, estimates are more of an art than a science. If those estimates — much like the Farmland estimates — are 50 percent too high, then the city would be paying for about 75 percent of the infrastructure and parking costs for the entire Rock Chalk Park project. (That is assuming that the city’s estimate for the construction of the building comes in at $19.9 million. Perhaps that estimate is high also, which changes the dynamics even more.)

It will be interesting to watch but perhaps hard to sort out. What is clear is it seems to be a good time to be going out for bid on construction projects.

The city is taking advantage of the good prices on the Farmland project. Originally, the city thought it may only be able to install the streets, sewers and waterlines in this first phase. But because the prices were low, the city added an alternate that allows for about 12 pad sites to have preliminary grading work completed. That will speed up the process for future business park tenants to build on those lots.

Work on the streets and sewers at the Farmland site is expected to go on throughout the summer and into the fall. The city hopes to have lots ready to build upon at Farmland by late 2013 or early 2014.

It may end up being a good time to have industrial property to offer. I read this article today from the Washington Post about how European manufacturers are starting to relocate to the U.S. because of our cheap natural gas prices. Chemical companies, in particular, are among those migrating.

It is funny how quickly the world changes. When I covered Farmland’s bankruptcy about a decade ago, high natural gas prices were one of the leading factors that put the Lawrence fertilizer plant out of business. Not that I think it is very likely, but how odd would it be if the big new user for the revamped Farmland site is a fertilizer plant?


msezdsit 5 years ago

That place is such a cocktail of toxins that I hate to even slow down to 45 mph to drive by. I hate to have to drive by it at all.

Good the city has tipped off any other contractors who will bid on whatever at this site to add about 40% to their bids.

msezdsit 5 years ago

Doesn't need to be any collusion, the city took care of that by warning all contractors that their bids may be 40% low. Even if they don't add 40% it is likely that the next bids will be higher than they may otherwise have been.

LloydDobbler 5 years ago

You are incorrect and should do some homework before posting. The primary contaminant is nitrogen in both soil and groundwater. Should it be cleaned up? Of course. But it's not a nuclear dump site. There are no airborne toxins on this site and, unless you plan on topping your ice cream with a little Farmland dirt, there are no health hazards associated with this site. The groundwater is captured and maintained in holding ponds.

msezdsit 5 years ago

I don't buy one ounce of your story dobber. When in full operation that area was one of the greatest polluters in the nation.

LloydDobbler 5 years ago

It did emit a lot of airborne pollutants when it was operating, but it's not operating anymore. However, the residual contamination is not that bad. Like I said, unless you are ingesting the soil or drinking out of the holding ponds, it represents no health hazard. You certainly don't have to speed up as you drive by it! There is a pretty extensive KDHE report about the site if you are interested.

jhawkinsf 5 years ago

The city ought to just plant a bunch of native trees and grasses on that site. With all that fertilizer in the ground, they will do great, look great, feel great.

Woodstein 5 years ago

Chad - How does the City plan to market and promote these industrial sites? Is it through Chamber of Commerce EcoDevo, or internally? If internally, who at City Hall is the 'expert' at marketing property?

Chad Lawhorn 5 years ago

My understanding is it will be marketed much like East Hills Business Park is marketed. The Chamber of Commerce plays a large role in marketing that property, as well as private commercial brokers. Thanks, Chad

Steve Jacob 5 years ago

I expect the bids from KC companies to be low at the new Rec. Center also.

somebodynew 5 years ago

There is my problem with the entire "bid" process for this rec center. The City has already said it is paying $25 Million. It doesn't matter how the bids for the building come in, SOMEONE is getting $25 Million, it just might not all go to Fritzell. But somehow I think only a contractor that has ties (public or not) to Fritzell will actually get the bid, so he will get a lot of the money no matter how it goes.

lawrencereporter 5 years ago

City taxpayers benefit when a number of independent, unrelated bidders compete for public work.

Taxpayers benefit when independent experienced and capable engineers and architects prepare plans and specifications for projects funded by taxpayers.

Taxpayers benefit when we have a staff that can estimate public infrastructure and allocate costs equitably to benefiting sites…

Thanks to Corliss and Schumm none of these benefits will be available to the taxpayers for the Rock Chalk Park infrastructure.

Instead all benefits go to a private developer (Fritzel).

Corliss gets the raise, the taxpayers get the shaft.

blindrabbit 5 years ago

Msezdsit: You do not know of what you speak. Your message full of ignorance about the property and it's environmental issues; seek out the KDHE report on the property. Most of the contaminants are nitrogen based agricultural residues that certaintly do not constitute EPA defined Hazardous Wastes and can be remidied by time. Your kind of grandstanding does not benefit those of us that try to rectify those sites that truly pose environmental hazards

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