Justice Center bids questioned

The Winnebago County Board laid over an ordinance to issue $44 million in bonds. Finance Committee Chairman Tim Simms said the bonds were intended to complete the borrowing to pay for the new Winnebago County Justice Center.

According to county documents, approving the ordinance would increase justice center construction costs by nearly $400,000.

Winnebago County Purchasing and Risk Management Director Sally Claasen said no decision had been made, and no time line had been set.

Northern Illinois Service Company submitted the sole bid of $3,634,197 for the overall project: earthwork, landscaping, concrete and asphalt. Separately, according to a county document, allegedly favored bids would total $4,107,122—a difference of $382,925 more.

But the county, according to this document, only chose bids for individual pieces, rather than the overall project, resulting in the higher total amount.

Cooling Landscape and Northern Illinois Service Company submitted bids of $850,370 and $1,006,938, respectively, for landscaping. Sjostrom & Sons, Campos Construction and Northern Illinois Service Company submitted bids of $599,692, $752,810 and $870,972, respectively, to provide exterior concrete. Rockford Blacktop and Rock Road Companies submitted bids of $267,060 and $280,203, respectively, for asphalt paving, while Northern Illinois Service Company submitted a bid of $277,471. Cooling Landscape, Sjostrom & Sons and Rockford Blacktop’s bids were the lowest in their respective categories.

Winnebago County Board Chairman Scott Christiansen confirmed Northern Illinois Service Company submitted the sole bid of $2.3 million to perform earthwork.

Northern Illinois Service Company Owner Wayne Klinger said, “I was the only bidder the first time around (March 11, 2005, for a base bid of $3,194,850, plus $136,540 for gun range excavation and $297,000 for landscape planting/Irrigation—a total of $3,331,687. That was $5,807 less than his 2006 bid, and $377,118 less than the total of combined “low” 2006 bids). (The county) said it was too high over their budget. They wanted me to come down. Negotiate. I said, ‘No, it’s against the law.’”

Christiansen confirmed the company’s first bid was rejected. He said the county believed the earthwork, which he described as constructing a pond, could be completed for around $1 million.

So, he said Northern Illinois Service Company’s bid might have had a better chance, if it had been around $2.6 million. According to Christiansen, the county estimated constructing the new justice center would cost about $128 million. But, he said, the county received more than $150 million in bids.

“I went a little nuts, wondering who is doing the estimating,” Christiansen said.

He noted the March 11 bids were over budget as well.

But Christiansen acknowledged steel, concrete and gas prices have all increased. He said implementing “value engineering” helped the county reduce the price tag by about $10 million through change orders. “Value engineering” is defined as an effort to analyze designed building features, systems, equipment, and material selections to maximize function and reduce costs, according to the U.S. General Services Administration Web site.

“Let’s see what we can do differently to save money,” Christiansen said, referring to what value engineering helps accomplish.

Northern Illinois Service Company Project Manager Paul Munson said negotiation is prohibited in regard to bids dealing with public money. But Munson said he was not sure if the law takes a different tack if only one bid is received.

Winnebago County State’s Attorney Paul Logli refused to comment.

“I really can’t answer that question,” Logli said.

Winnebago County Deputy State’s Attorney Chuck Prorok spoke to the situation. Prorok said no state statute prohibits negotiating with the lowest bidder.

“There wouldn’t be anything wrong with that, in and of itself,” he said.

Klinger wondered out loud why he was the “Lone Ranger” of sorts.

“Why was I the only bidder the first time? Why am I the only bidder on the whole project again this time?” Klinger said.

He said fulfilling the 20 percent minority contractor requirement made tapping Campos Construction as a subcontractor imperative. Munson concurred.

“We need their bid to make it work,” he said.

Campos Construction is a fully-certified, female-owned business, Munson said. He said the company would allow Northern Illinois Service Company to meet minority hiring requirements. But, since the county allegedly rejected the company’s combination bid, Campos Construction loses that work.

Cooling Landscaping Managing Partner Chris Cooling said that a minority trucking firm would be hauling topsoil, while a female-owned nursery would provide some trees and mulch. Cooling didn’t recall the nursery’s name. Cooling refused to reveal the trucking firm.

He said bids varied due to fluctuating gas prices.

“That’s why I can’t give you that name,” Cooling said.

He noted his company has an 80 percent minority employment rate. Rock Road Companies and Rockford Blacktop refused to comment on the number of minorities they employ.

Christiansen said the county’s equal employment opportunity specialist, Sheila Hill, has been on the project site. He said Hill has been tracking the contractors and their employees.

“We’ve made a commitment to not only minority contractors, but to their employees,” Christiansen said.

Rockford Ald. Ann Thompson (D-7) is among the minorities working on the project. Thompson said she applied to become a minority contractor. She bid to provide cleaning services. She’s also expanded her business’ focus. According to Thompson, her company is subcontracting with Sjostrom & Sons.

“If an opportunity presents itself, I will bid on it,” she said.

From the May 3-9, 2006, issue

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