Library Board’s rebid ‘gamble’ pays off in big way

Opinion Column

Carlton Fletcher

Carlton Fletcher

You’ve got to know when to hold ‘em, know when to fold ‘em.

— Kenny Rogers

Call it a tale of two bids.

Albany and Dougherty County citizens got two very different perspectives on the high-dollar government bid process Tuesday with polar opposite results. That it was those citizens’ money being used to cover both bids made the process even more compelling.

The day’s first bid came at the tail end of the Albany City Commission’s work session at the downtown Government Center. Staff recommended accepting an $894,000 bid by PDC Construction of Bainbridge for construction of a new fire station to replace one on Holly Drive that had been built in the 1980s on a sinkhole and was, well, sinking.

Albany Fire Chief James Carswell said the building had collapsed enough to displace windows and walls, leaving his firefighters at the station at risk of the kind of calamity that’s big news in parts of Florida these days.

Mayor Dorothy Hubbard winced at the amount of the project’s “low” bid: $144,000 more than the city had budgeted for the project and $300,000 more than the same building cost to build only seven years ago. Follow-up conversations with city staff revealed that 12 contractors had shown interest in bidding on the project and nine had attended a pre-bid conference.

However, five of the contractors — including, according to reports, several local contractors who typically bid on city projects — did not prequalify for the bid process by a specified date and were thus eliminated from bidding on the project. By the time the bids were actually due, only three contractors bid on the project, and one was disqualified.

Thus, there were two bidders, neither local.

City commissioner Bob Langstaff asked if perhaps a rebid might be in order, given that 10 possible bidders had been lost in the process, but project architect Mack Wakeford of Albany suggested accepting the low bid and moving forward with the project.

“Construction prices are all over the map right now,” Wakeford said after the meeting. “Chances of a rebid changing the price significantly are very slim.”

Thirty minutes after the City Commission meeting ended, Columbus architect Jeffrey Harper with the Columbus-based Hecht Burdeshaw firm met with representatives of seven area construction firms to open rebid packages on a Central Library branch renovation project. Reports indicate there were serious questions about the initial bid on the special tax-funded project, and so the Dougherty Library Board decided last month to rebid.

However, since all initial bids had come in well below the $5.5 million SPLOST allocation for the project, Harper included an additional $50,000 in work for the rebid. Still, when the seven bids were opened at the Northwest Library branch Tuesday morning, the lowest bid — PDC Construction’s (again!) — came in at $3,285,300, some $300,000 less than the original lowest bid.

“This is wonderful; clearly I think we made the right decision in rebidding the project,” Library Board Chairman Walter Kelley said after the bid opening. “By calling for a rebid, we delayed the project only a couple of months, but in the process we saved $300,000.”

Informed later of the results of the Library Board bid, Langstaff called the outcome “very interesting” but stopped short of suggesting the city’s fire station bid should be revisited.

“I’d like for Mack (Wakeford) to have an opportunity to explain things a little better, but in a situation like this you have to be careful that you’re not comparing apples and oranges,” Langstaff said. “You have to consider the kinds of projects that were bid on.”

Indeed, contacted after the library bid, Wakeford said the scope of the two projects dictated the potential wiggle room contractors had.

“With libraries, especially renovations, there are a lot of potential ‘moving parts,’” Wakeford said. “This fire station project is very simple, very straightforward. Because of the simplicity of the design, I just didn’t think the city would benefit enough to justify a rebid.”

Certainly the situations were vastly different as officials with the city and the Library Board considered their separate bids Tuesday. Insiders suggest any time an entity considers a follow-up bid on projects such as these, the entity is gambling with taxpayers’ money.

Perhaps — heck, most likely — that’s so. But if the county Library Board was gambling with its rebid proposal, its members definitely held a winning hand ... a $300,000 one at that.

Email Metro Editor Carlton Fletcher at carlton.fletcher@albanyherald.com.