Guest Column: Nicholas Conservatory’s green roof contract: Does it pay to play?

By Mona Marcinkowski, Kathy Johnson and Nichole Larison Sammon
Fox Ridge Subdivision residents

In Winnebago County, everybody wants to be a part of the “club,” the exclusive club of good ol’ boys where votes seem to go to the friends of friends and only the ones in power prosper.

Is this the case with the recent contract awarded to Christiansen, Inc., owned and operated by Winnebago County Board Chairman Scott Christiansen (R)?

The Rockford Park District, in charge of all contracts for the Nicholas Conservatory, not long ago sent out a request for bids to construct and install a green roof over the existing conservatory roof structure. Fifty-six companies were notified of the opportunity, and three companies — McDermaid Roofing & Insulating, Christiansen, Inc., and Carlson Roofing — were deemed to be “responsible bidders” by the Rockford Park District.

The three proposals, as stated by the Rockford Park District in their own Request for Bid Form for the Nicholas Conservatory green roof, were to be weighed against the following criteria (bold emphasis added):

Although price is a major consideration in the award of bids, the Rockford Park District does not award on price alone. Also to be considered would be quality of product and service, as judged by the Rockford Park District, past experience with same products, services offered, warranties, long-range costs, delivery, and similar such items. All rights are reserved by the Board of Commissioners to determine whether the selection, in its judgment, meets the needs or purposes intended. Such decisions shall be final and not subject to recourse.

Christiansen, Inc., was awarded the contract as the lowest bidder.

In response to a Freedom of Information Act request regarding the contract, Kyle R. Martinson, purchasing manager for the Rockford Park District, stated that since all three finalists for the contract were “responsible bidders,” the contract “was awarded based upon lowest bid in compliance with Rockford Park District Ordinance.

Secondary criteria, such as warranty, serviceability, ability to meet stated deadlines, may be evaluated should two or more bidders present identical bids,” Martinson added.

In a Request for Proposal, unlike a Request for Bid, more latitude is given in the evaluation of proposals,” Martinson continued. “Proposals are scored on a numerical scale where factors such as price, warranty, experience in similar projects, references are [sic] come together for an overall score.”

In reviewing the actual bids, a discrepancy in the Park District’s own statements seems to emerge. Although Christiansen, Inc., was, in fact, the lowest bidder at $108,227, their offer only comes with a one-year warranty. McDermaid Roofing, the next-lowest bidder at $144,749, comes with a 20-year warranty.

Although Christiansen, Inc., has worked with the Park District in the past, McDermaid Roofing has done this type of roof before at Rock Valley College just last year. They clearly know what is involved in creating a green roof, and are willing to back their work for the long haul.

A one-year warranty might as well state “fingers crossed.” How is Scott Christiansen managing to create the same roof for $36,000 less? Where do the savings originate? Quality of products? Quality of workers? The savings now possibly turn into costs later.

Why would the Rockford Park District go against their own stated bid requirements and risk having to pay out of pocket many years to come to fix whatever happens to fall outside of such a miniscule warranty? Was it swayed by the fact that the Winnebago County Board, headed by Scott Christiansen, contributed money to the Nicholas Conservatory project with a grant of $800,000 over eight years to the second phase of the project?

It does not take a degree in accounting to realize that McDermaid Roofing is the only one standing behind their work. They are the ones with experience in working with the materials to create a sustainable green roof. They are the ones willing to put their reputation on the line with the 20-year warranty.

Although it selected the lowest bidder, the Rockford Park District clearly did not consider the long-term costs and potential risks with choosing Christiansen, Inc., and the constituents of this county could be the ones who pay for this decision for years to come.

Make your thoughts known to the Rockford Park District, 401 S. Main St., Rockford, at (815) 987-8800.

From the May 9-15, 2012, issue

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