City accepts second lowest bid

Published on Wed, Jul 21, 2010 by By Jeremy Schwartz

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The lack of a single sheet of paper means one road contractor has lost a job and city taxpayers will pay $60,000 more for a street improvement project.

Blaine city council voted 5-0 on July 12 to award a $1.64 million street improvement contract to Colacurcio Brothers Construction even though their bid was about $60,000 higher than the lowest bidder, Friberg Construction, of Ferndale.

The city council, on the recommendation of staff, awarded the contract to Colacurcio Brothers because Friberg had neglected to fill out a page of the bid application.

The project, which is set to start at the end of July and take about one year, will widen the stretch of H Street between Ludwick Avenue and Terrace Avenue, explained Blaine public works director Steve Banham. The project will also improve the utility lines that run under the road.

Eric Zimbelman, an attorney representing Friberg Construction, said Friberg did not fill out the subcontractor list on the bid application because the company did not plan to use any subcontractors performing more than 10 percent of the work. The application did not include a specific form where Friberg could list the work they had planned to do themselves, Zimbelman pointed out.

Colacurcio Brothers, on the other hand, included all their self-performed work on the subcontractor list. Zimbelman said his client’s desire to fill out the documents as accurately as possible stopped them from listing themselves as a subcontractor.

The ambiguity of the application’s directions caused Friberg to fill the application out incompletely, Zimbelman argued. Four out of the seven bidding contractors failed to include a subcontractor list, according to the city.
Dan Colacurcio made the case for his construction company. He argued filling out the subcontractor list before the bid is awarded is necessary because it prevents the general contractor from bid-shopping for cheaper subcontractors after the fact. Such bid-shopping is not allowed because it would allow the general contractor to unfairly increase its profit margins.

The motion to award the contract to Colacurcio Brothers was made by councilmember Charlie Hawkins. He said the council had met with the city attorney and the public works director in an executive session before the vote took place; that discussion led to the decision to award the contract to Colacurcio Brothers.

Hawkins argued it would be unfair for the company that followed the rules to lose the bid. The council has to go by bidding rules that the city has set down; doing otherwise would cause the council to lose its bidding integrity, he maintained.

“It doesn’t mean we want to spend $60,000 more, but we have to follow the rules,” Hawkins said.

The bid application caused a similar problem in 2008, Banham said. Another general contractor failed to provide a list of their subcontractors and was subsequently not awarded the bid, he explained.

The confusion that the application seems to induce has caused the city to take a serious look at the bidding process, Banham pointed out. Banham said he discussed awarding the bid to Friberg and putting the contract out for re-bid with the city council in their executive session.

Banham said he advised against putting the contract out for bid again for numerous reasons, including the eventual delay in the street improvements and an unfair bidding atmosphere. In the normal bidding process, bids are received secretly to ensure competitive bidding takes place.

“Re-bidding would throw a real monkey wrench into the competitive bidding process,” Banham said.

Despite Colacurcio Brothers’ price being higher than Friberg’s , Banham explained both were more than $250,000 lower than the city engineer’s estimate. The city will also be able to use a $500,000 grant it got in 2006 to help fund the H Street improvements.