LJWorld.com weblogs Town Talk

More on city recreation center bids, and a possible city policy on drone use?


Tuesday night’s Lawrence City Commission meeting ended up being like a baked bean dish at this weekend’s Memorial Day barbecue: It was too much for one sitting. So, here are a couple of leftovers from the meeting.


I have had some people ask me whether Tuesday’s meeting ever produced an explanation about why the city’s cost estimates for the recreation center were so much higher than the actual bids the city received from nine contractors.

After all, the $10.5 million low bid received by the city was significantly less than the $18.4 million and $20.7 million estimates produced by two architects hired by the city.

City commissioners did receive a bit of an explanation. There were several aspects mentioned, but the biggest factor was that architects didn’t account for how much some key commodity prices have fallen, and how competitive the regional construction market has become for large construction projects.

The two architects — the team of CP Sports and KBS Constructors Inc., and Lawrence-based Gould Evans — both noted that several large commodity-oriented bids came in significantly lower than expected. For instance, CP Sports said the bids for steel, HVAC/plumbing and the electrical estimates came in $6 million below its estimates. And Gould Evans said the bids for steel, HVAC and wood flooring came in $4 million below its estimates.

Several of those commodities had been in high demand because of building booms in China and the Middle East, Craig Penzler, an architect with CP Sports, wrote in a memo to city officials. But “with international booms slowing, the large commodity materials are more readily available,” Penzler wrote. “We believe we are seeing an impact upon the pricing for larger projects.”

One of the more interesting outcomes of the bidding process was the bid the city received from Crossland Construction. Gould Evans hired Crossland to produce a mock bid for the project a few months ago. It provided an estimate of $16.8 million. When Crossland bid the project for real, its price was $10.7 million. Granted, the building’s design at the time Crossland provided the mock bid wasn’t exactly the same as it was at the time of the real bid, but it was pretty close. The two bids were not.

The explanation seems to be that conditions have changed rapidly in the past month or two. Or, in some cases, even in just a few hours. In his memo to city officials, Penzler said he had a conversation with one Topeka bidder who said subcontractors on the project aggressively started cutting their prices in an effort to win the job. According to Penzler, two hours before the bid was due to the city, the Topeka contractor believed his total bid for the recreation center was going to be about $16 million. Over the next hour, the bid had dropped to $14 million. And then just before the 2 p.m. bid deadline, it had dropped to just under $13 million.

Clearly, there is a lesson to be learned here: If the city had set the bid date a few hours later, contractors would have been paying the city to build the project.

Well, maybe that’s not quite the takeaway here. But it does show the power of bidding. As has already been reported, the city isn’t going through a competitive bid process on the infrastructure portion of this project. At Tuesday’s meeting, Public Works Director Chuck Soules said he is looking over the previous $8.3 million estimate for infrastructure. (It really is closer to a $9.3 million estimate when you include some site work and other items that aren’t technically called infrastructure but are part of the no-bid package.) Soules is comparing the cost estimate with bid prices the city has seen for similar work, such as the bids received for the Farmland business park project and the Iowa Street reconstruction project.

Soules said his preliminary analysis shows that it is unlikely that the infrastructure work should come in any higher than the $8.3 million estimate. But, as we reported, the city now wants to hear what developer Thomas Fritzel, who is building the infrastructure, says. They’ve asked Fritzel to provide a firm quote on the infrastructure costs within the next two weeks.


One last leftover from Tuesday’s City Commission meeting. And this one really is just a crumb. But it appears that next week’s City Commission meeting may produce a conversation about the use of drones in Lawrence airspace.

City Commissioner Terry Riordan said he had been approached by some citizens who want to discuss a city drone policy. Of course, the city doesn’t have drones. But apparently there are some people in the city who are concerned about future use of drones in Lawrence airspace, I presume by the federal government.

Commissioners indicated they weren’t going to put the topic on their regular agenda. It would seem unlikely that the city would have any influence over the federal government on the topic. But anybody is free to come and speak during the commission’s open public comment period at the end of each meeting. It sounded like some representatives of the group may do that at next week’s meeting.

You can bet I’ll keep an ear open for that.

UPDATE: I've talked this afternoon with Ben Jones, a Lawrence resident who is part of a group of about dozen or more people who have started meeting about the drone issue. He said the group will ask the city to consider an ordinance that would limit the city's use of drones — such as for police department surveillance and other such activities — until standards can be developed. He said the ordinance would be modeled after one passed in Charlottesville, Va..

The group does plan to speak at Tuesday night's City Commission meeting. Jones said the group, which crosses political lines, isn't expecting Lawrence to get into the drone business any time soon, but it thinks a resolution would be a good opportunity for the city "to get ahead of the curve."


Tim Quest 5 years ago

You can "presume" it's about the federal government, but even, like, 2 seconds on Google might have given you a little more information if you'd bother doing your job. Municipal drone bans have been enacted due to private UAV usage, not government paranoia.

You can go online and buy an UAV (drone) with an HD camera for under $300. People don't want nosy busybodies snooping all up in their business videotaping them surreptitiously from the sky. Please, again, do even a bare minimum amount of research next time. Or you can just continue spending your time crafting stupid misogynistic "jokes" about how women be naggin' and shoppin'. It's sad how far the LJW's standards have fallen after laying off the real journalists and leaning more and more on this yokel.

Bud Stagg 5 years ago

Wow, way too harsh there. Farney, you can add to the conversation without slappin Chad in the face. He does a good job and if you don't like his style, don't read his column. That is how America works.

Chad Lawhorn 5 years ago

Thanks Farney. That's good information to have. Sorry I didn't Google it before. Here is an article by Slate: http://www.slate.com/articles/technology/future_tense/2013/02/domestic_surveillance_drone_bans_are_sweeping_the_nation.html Thanks, Chad

pizzapete 5 years ago

How about drones that can deliver pizza and burritos? We have plenty of pizza and Mexican joints, we just need some drones to help with delivery. Bring on the tacocopters... http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/03/23/tacocopter-startup-delivers-tacos-by-unmanned-drone-helicopter_n_1375842.html

bad_dog 5 years ago

"We have plenty of pizza and Mexican joints..." Sounds like a marriage made in heaven...

Leslie Swearingen 5 years ago

Chad you are an excellent writer and I always enjoy your blogs. They are both informative and funny. I totally missed that joke about women. If you did write this, then think about this, your house would be totally empty unless someone had went out and bought all those things.

Buy your wife some roses today just to say thank you for the shopping that gives you a nice place to come home to.

somebodynew 5 years ago

Chad - I certainly would not say it like FarneyMac, but s/he does have a point. I just recently read an article where the Mizzery school is offering a course in their Journalism school (who would of thought they had such a thing) about operating UAVs. Heck, with LJW budget you could soon be doing way more 'in depth' articles about things. I know I wish I had one.

And keep up the good work. I always enjoy reading your columns.

bearded_gnome 5 years ago

and just imagine what Chad could do if he had his own fleet of UAV's? wow, then his towntalk column's would write themselves!

seriously, I support the efforts of the group in general that is concerned about a local ordinance or at least resolution regarding drones in lawrence airspace. we certainly have plenty to worry about regarding invasion of privacy, illegal search, or even armed drones. or electronic snooping drones. plenty indeed.

workinghard 5 years ago

All you dog owners that don't scoop your dog's poop--beware.

bearded_gnome 5 years ago

not just cameras on UAV's: x-ray, infrared, electronic snooping equipment including amazing stuff tat can really invade your privacy, etc.

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