Bidding process needs amending

Says Facilities Manager
Fri, 03/17/2017 - 12:00pm
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Facilities Manager Sam Bird feels that the state’s bidding process is a problem worthy of his, and the Town Council’s, attention.

Bird devoted a large portion of his Facilities Manager’s report to the topic, which he submitted to the Town Council on March 15. In the report, Bird states that the bidding process has been an ongoing issue “for many years, and has been stubbornly unsolvable.”

“It’s a problem I’d love to solve, if it’s even solvable,” Bird said, during an interview with The Block Island Times. “It may not be doable, but that’s no reason why we shouldn’t try.”

According to Bird, the Town of New Shoreham has been saddled with a legally required bidding process that makes it unaffordable and problematic to complete construction projects under budget.

“It’s not working for us,” said Bird, who noted that bids come in too high from a limited field of bidders. “We rarely get island contractors” involved in the bidding process due to bonding issues and project timelines. Bird said that since island contractors are “booked a year out,” the town is often relegated to using off-island contractors.

Another problem is that the bids typically come in “astronomically high” from off-island contractors leading to three options: (one) a cancellation of the project, (two) a negotiation that involves value engineering to attempt to reduce costs, or (three) begrudging acceptance of a costly bid. “It’s not acceptable,” he said.

As a result, Bird is researching other methods for bidding, including legislation that could aid the town with its construction process. “I’m trying to explore solutions outside the box,” said Bird. “We’re bound by the state bidding laws that in a lot of ways don’t work to our advantage. We need to figure out a way to solve the issue. We may have to go to the legislature for some type of exception.” He said that while the state bidding law creates a level playing field that’s open and transparent, the requirements of the law “handcuffs” the island.

Bird believes that the “Block Island factor” makes construction projects challenging and costly. He noted in his report that the island’s “isolation, relative small size of projects, additional costs of transportation, housing, logistics, and schedule risks all conspire to produce very few responses to bids, and those responses are inordinately over-priced.”

Bird’s report notes that, “island-based companies perform as much town-funded work as possible, however, this has been difficult with local contractors unfamiliar with bonding, public work requirements, large front logs of work, and a surplus of private work on island. I continue to look for methods to resolve this issue.”

During the Town Council’s March 15 meeting, Councilor Chris Willi asked Bird if the “bonding” was the main issue burdening the bidding process.

“It’s not so much the bonding,” said Bird. “That’s a barrier for island contractors, but not for getting good, and responsible bids (from off-island contractors). The barrier we see again, and again, and again is we get a limited number of bids that are overly inflated.”  

“Do you think that would go away if we were able to attract on-island contractors?” asked Willi.

“I think some of that goes away, if we can do that,” said Bird. “I think there are other project delivery methods besides the standard (state) design bid build” process. “Rhode Island has accepted other construction project delivery methods. I’d like to explore that. I’m trying to ponder away around this conundrum.” 

An example of a problematic bidding process was the town’s failure to land a construction company to renovate the Fred Benson Beach Pavilion for the coming summer season. The two bids that were submitted came in so high they had to be refigured, but due to one contractor objecting to the process those bids were eventually thrown out. That project will be rebid in the fall.

Bird told The Times he’s an “optimistic realist” about the issue, but noted that “the cards are stacked against us in trying to solve it. But that’s no reason not to try,” he said.