North Adams School Contractor Bids Delayed by Complaint

By Tammy DanielsiBerkshires Staff
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The School Building Committee will have to wait until next week to open the general contractor bids.

NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — The Conte School project is on hold for a week after complaints were filed over a subcontractor bid.

"Early last we week got notice from the subbids on the low masonry contractor on what we thought was a technicality," said Kenneth J. Guyette of Strategic Building Solutions, the owner's project manager. "The [attorney general] said the signature was a statutory requirement and we were contracted to reject the bid." 

A bid complaint was filed against Champlain Masonry, the low bidder on the project, for failing to fill out one of the lines in its submission.

Guyette said they had to reject the bid because the bidder had to fill in the line, designating an entity for a sub-subcontract, by state statute.

However, Champlain, in turn, filed its own complaint and a hearing has been set at the AG's office for Thursday.

Guyette expected a decision to be rendered that day or the next. That would clear the way for the general contractor bids to be opened at 2 p.m. on Monday, March 17.

The School Building Committee had hoped to take action on Monday to reduce costs or rebid the project, depending on how the general contractor bids come in.

Two weeks ago, the committee was shocked by the subcontractor bids that came in 8 percent higher than expected. The loss of Champlain Masonry further exacerbates the issues since it was the low bidder by more than $300,000. The next lowest is Lighthouse Masonry Inc. at $2.674 million, nearly a half-million overbudget.

Margo Jones, of Jones Whitsett Architects, said she and Guyette had spoken with some of the subcontractors to find out why the numbers were so high.

"We just didn't have enough competition that we needed," said Jones. "Masonry had only three bidders but a lot more prequalified.

"It takes a little work to be prequalified so you think they would have done it."

She repeated her thought that the location of the project and the fact it was the first large project of the year played a part in the high bids and low turnout.

More specifically, some changes between the 90 percent and 100 percent estimating process may have upped the costs.

Electrical work, the highest at nearly $700,000 over estimate, was affected by the decision to include information technology wiring, and LED lighting fixtures that were chosen because of rebate potential, but which could be switched for less expensive lights.

"FF&E [Furniture, Fixtures & Equipment] is extremely, extremely tight so we thought we were serving the project much better," Jones said of the IT work that is estimated at $300,000.

The Massachusetts School Authority only allows $1,200 in FF&E costs per pupil.

A peer reviewer also felt more extensive engineering was required in items such as the floor connections to the masonry and how the sunshades were installed.

Jones and Guyette thought some tweaking of the bids could bring the prices down; there is also the possibility that rebidding could lower costs and attract more contractors.

Those decisions could impact the opening of the new elementary school, planned for the fall of 2015.

"We would be in better shape today if the bids had opened today," Guyette said.

The School Building Committee will meet on Monday, March 17, at 5 p.m. at City Hall to review the general contractor bids and decide the next step; the bids can be found online here.

The school naming committee will meet prior to that at 4 p.m.

Tags: bidding,   Conte School,   MSBA,   school project,   

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