Aquatic bid process defended

By Emily Le Coz/NEMS Daily Journal

TUPELO – Aquatic center planners responded Tuesday to criticism that they mishandled the project’s bid process, which resulted in six overpriced construction proposals that ultimately were rejected.
Don Short, president of the Omaha, Neb.,-based Tempest Co., told the Daily Journal that it’s the city’s fault bids to construct Tupelo’s future aquatic center came in at least $1 million over projection.
Short is a fellow of the American Society of Professional Estimators, according to his company website.
“I would venture to say not one person was a certified professional estimator, let alone a person with the qualifications to be an estimator,” Short wrote in an email. “Quit blaming the contractors. The city personnel should be held accountable for this problem.”
Tupelo’s Parks and Recreation Department collaborated with JBHM Architects and The Isaac Sports Group – as well as with numerous other stake holders – to design the indoor swim facility. JBHM then prepared cost estimates and handled the bid process.
JBHM Principal Joey Henderson said officials followed all the proper procedures.
“Within our responsibilities, we do estimates, but they are square-foot estimates,” he said. “They’re not detailed, 25-page estimates where they count every bolt and every inch of concrete.”
Those kinds of estimates, which are prepared by certified professionals like Tempest, do limit the number of unexpectedly high bids. But they also cost more because of the outside consultant fee and level of minutiae involved, Henderson said.
Such estimates also are pretty rare, at least in this market, he added.
Of the six companies that bid on the aquatic center project, the lowest price was nearly $14.4 million. The highest was more than $15.2 million.
Officials had hoped for a $11 million to $12 million price range and urged the City Council to reject the bids so they could start the process again.
It’s not the first such project whose construction bids came in over projection. Tupelo Fire Station No. 4 on North Gloster Street went through two bidding cycles before a contract was awarded. In April, the Oxford School Board voted to rebid construction of its high school when its construction proposals exceeded budget.
With a multi-million-dollar project, $1 million over “is not that far out of line,” said Tupelo Parks and Recreation Director Don Lewis. “Had the bids come in all over the place, then we would have probably done a bad job estimating.”
Planners now are holding a series of meetings with stake holders, contractors and subcontractors to lower the estimate and put the project out for bid again. It will add about a month to the timeline but will not cost any extra, Lewis said.
“No blame or fault on the bid process,” said Stu Isaac of The Isaac Sports Group.
emily.lecoz@journalinc.com