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Oak Harbor School Board bypasses bids to award tennis contract

Crews begin work on Oak Harbor High School’s tennis courts.  School board members voted to award the project to Spee West Construction Co. at their Monday meeting.  - Katie McVicker/Whidbey News-Times
Crews begin work on Oak Harbor High School’s tennis courts. School board members voted to award the project to Spee West Construction Co. at their Monday meeting.
— image credit: Katie McVicker/Whidbey News-Times

The Oak Harbor School District board members are taking heat after voting to let Spee West Construction Co. undertake the high school tennis court renovation project at a cost of $639,882 despite the fact that the company didn’t participate in bidding.

The tennis courts were part of the original outline for the high school modernization project, but were later removed when the initial cost estimates exceeded the project’s budget.

However, Phase 2 of the project ended up costing well under budget and the tennis courts, along with the resurfacing of the student parking lot and Field House ceiling panels, were added back to the plan.

Without reviewing final construction documents, Spee West representatives verbally mentioned to district officials that they believed the project could be completed for about $587,000.

Business Director Vicki Williams recommended that the project be bidded out. She cited a 2007 incident in which the state auditor’s office claimed that Coupeville High School did not adhere to competitive bidding laws for major public projects when the school board approved a $4 million change order to allow Kassel Contruction to build a new gym. The report stated a law that requires public projects costing more than $40,000 be bid out to ensure all interested parties have an opportunity to bid and assure that the project is completed for the lowest possible price.

When the Oak Harbor School District opened bidding for the tennis courts, it received six offers ranging from $678,000 to nearly $1.1 million. Spee West decided to accept a larger project elsewhere and did not bid on the tennis courts. The lowest bidder was Ebenal Construction.

Ebenal has done projects for the district before and some of the work concerned school officials. In 2008, 27,000 square feet of concrete had to be replaced in the district’s Career and Technical Building after a testing agency noticed that Ebenal workers had unevenly distributed it.

At the time of bidding, the school district considered disqualifying Ebenal but did not do so. The school district attorney advised the district to reject all bids to avoid having to determine if they were justified to disqualify Ebenal.

Superintendent Rick Schulte told the board he and the attorney extensively discussed the disqualification, but when it came down to it, the attorney wasn’t sure the district would win its case.

“We had a case, but it wasn’t a strong case,” Schulte said. The attorney “felt it was likely to be challenged if we did that resulting in a time delay and legal costs.”

Additionally, the attorney said the district could negotiate a change order with Spee West, a contractor the district held in high regard and hoped could do the project for its original estimate of $587,000.

After project manager Mitch Romero negotiated with Spee West, they agreed on the amount of $639,882. Though this amount is lower than the Ebenal bid, it does not include court lighting, which the previous bids did.

According to Schulte, the Whidbey Island Tennis Association and the athletic director told him that court lighting really isn’t necessary at this time.

“I wasn’t happy that the negotiated change order price was higher than the $587,000 that I thought was a closer target,” Schulte said, but added, “removing the lights was not a cost-saving measure. We removed the lights primarily because of public input.”

Chuck Krieg, the owner Krieg Concrete Products, Inc., told board members he doesn’t agree with their actions. He said if the board members knew they would have problems with Ebenal, they should not have allowed them to bid in the first place.

Krieg thinks the district should have awarded the project to the second lowest bidder, Precision Earthworks Inc., located in Mukilteo.

“It does get a little difficult to throw out (the lowest bidder), but it happens more often than they want us to believe,” he said.

Krieg pointed out that the state law dealing with competitive bidding procedures says that in the case a school board wants to reject any or all project bids “members should make further calls for bids in the same manner as the original call.”

Bill Klimek, who estimates jobs for Precision Earthworks Inc., said he’s frustrated that his company wasted time preparing a bid.

“It’s just not right the way they approached it,” Klimek said. “It sounds as though they never intended to award the contract to anybody that submitted bids in the first place ... it’s on the edge of morality.”

Though Krieg doesn’t think any of the contractors will sue the district, he thinks the district has opened itself up to a lawsuit.

Schulte said the district decided against rebidding the project because it would cost another $25,000 and would delay the project by about one and a half months.

Board members Pete Hunt, David Sherman and Dave McCool voted in favor of the change order. Gary Wallin opposed, and Corey Johnson abstained.

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