Engineering design contract spurs debate on no-bid contracts
What appeared on the Baldwin City Council’s agenda to be a routine approval of an engineering agreement led Tuesday to a promised review of how the city will award such contracts.
The Kansas Department of Transportation approved in January the city’s Corridor Management grant application to improve the U.S. Highway 56/High Street intersection. The project slated for 2014 will reconstruct the intersection so that High Street meets the highway at 90 degrees rather than the existing acute angle. The work also would raise High Street so that it would be on the same level on the highway.
With the improvement’s selection for the Corridor Management program, KDOT is to pay up to $775,000 of construction costs. The city is on the hook for the project’s right-of-way acquisition, utility relocation and engineering costs.
When considering the first of those engineering costs, a $77,000 contract with BG Consultants for the project’s preliminary design, council members Bonnie Plumberg and Shane Starkey asked why the city didn’t seek bids from other engineering firms.
“If we go out for bids for an $18,000 lawn mower, why aren’t we going out for bids on something this big?” Starkey asked. “The job BG (Consultants) did for the business park plan was substandard. We asked for more information, but it was not forthcoming.”
Starkey said BG Consultants had performed well for the city in the past, but he wondered if the firm’s engineers “got a little comfortable” about doing business in Baldwin City with no-bid contracts.
Mayor Ken Wagner and City Administrator Chris Lowe said the no-bid recommendation stemmed from a combination of BG Consultants expertise on the corridor management process, its early involvement in the Baldwin City project and the help the firm’s engineers provided in the short one-month turnaround between the time the city learned of the grant opportunity and the deadline for applications.
Wagner and Lowe shared Starkey’s disappointment in the firm’s work on the business plan, but they said that was not a product of engineer David Hamby, who was working with the city on the project.
The city might have received lower bids through a request for proposals process, but KDOT might not have approved the project without BG Consultants’ help with the application, Lowe said.
Wagner and Lowe said the city was “too far down the road” to seek request for proposals now.
“I understand the concept,” Lowe said. “It would be more wasteful of public funds to start over and do a bid process for an engineer.”
A reluctant Plumberg accepted the need to approve the contract so the project could move forward, but she said she was disappointed with the single-bid recommendation and the lack of explanation for the decision.
“I will vote (yes) tonight, but I don’t want to have this happen to me again,” she said.
After the contract won approval with only Starkey voting no, Wagner promised he would visit with Lowe about changing to the process for award engineering contracts.
Lowe said the county could share in the engineering costs and other city expenses in the project. He noted High Street north of the highway was a county road and it, too, would benefit from the improvements.
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