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Questions arise on contract award method

December 07, 2005|by ANDREW SCHOTZ

WASHINGTON COUNTY

andrews@herald-mail.com

Three weeks after the Washington County Board of Education awarded $2.3 million in school-design contracts, the County Commissioners have questioned the process.

Three county commissioners said Tuesday that cost should have been a bigger factor when contract proposals were considered.

Instead, using a new policy, the school board focused on the quality of the proposals. For each of the two contracts, the board opened the bid of only the highest-scoring firm and negotiated a price, said William Blum, the board's chief operating officer

On Nov. 15, the school board picked Grimm & Parker Architects of Bethesda, Md., to design the new Westfields Elementary School, south of Hagerstown, at a cost of $964,130.

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The board also awarded a contract for $1,296,000 to Duane, Cahill, Mullineaux & Mullineaux of Gaithersburg, Md., to do a feasibility study and design plans for Pangborn Elementary School.

Commissioners Vice President William J. Wivell said Tuesday, during a meeting with the board, that a few other bids should have been opened, too.

"Any of the top three seem to be qualified to design a school," he said.

Commissioner John C. Munson sharply criticized the School Board's approach to spending.

"We can't just give money away like it grows on trees," he said.

The County Commissioners fund most of the school budget each year.

Gary Rohrer, the county's director of public works, defended the quality-based method of purchasing.

He said choosing the lowest bidder might save some money at first, but picking the most-qualified firm would save more money later, as cost overruns are avoided.

Commissioners President Gregory I. Snook said he understood the quality philosophy, "but somewhere you have to think about price."

Bushey Feight Morin Architects Inc. of Hagerstown, a firm that wasn't picked, complained about the process in a letter to the board and the County Commissioners, Wivell said.

Reached at his office Tuesday afternoon, firm owner Brent Feight declined to comment until the board responded.

"The letter speaks for itself," he said.

A School Board summary says 21 architectural firms submitted proposals for the Westfields project.

"The highest-ranking firms were short-listed for interviews," the summary says.

Duane, Cahill, Mullineaux & Mullineaux and Grimm & Parker Architects each scored 123, followed by Bushey Feight Morin Architects at 113, the summary says.

Twenty-three firms sent in proposals for the Pangborn work, according to the school board. The summary says Duane, Cahill, Mullineaux & Mullineaux scored 119, followed by Bushey Feight Morin Architects with 102.

The School Board approved its policy for awarding professional services contracts by a 5-2 vote on May 17.

The board also used the policy in September, when it chose Bushey Feight Morin Architects to design a North Hagerstown High School stadium.

The contract was for $199,132, but the firm agreed to do $25,000 worth of that work pro bono.

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