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Contract policy questioned

School district's bidding process called 'ridiculous'

School district's bidding process called 'ridiculous'

January 03, 2006|by TARA REILLY

HAGERSTOWN

tarar@herald-mail.com

The Washington County Board of Education passed up an opportunity to save more than $700,000 on two school projects by awarding design contracts based on the quality of the proposals rather than cost, a company turned down by the school board said.

Bushey Feight Morin Architects Inc. of Hagerstown has questioned the school board's process, saying it would have charged the school system $1,548,200, instead of the $2,260,130 the board awarded to the other firms.

Some Washington County Commissioners have taken issue with the school board's quality-based purchasing process.

The school board awarded the contracts in November. After ranking the quality of the proposals, the board opened the bid of only the highest-scoring firm and negotiated a price, William Blum, the board's chief operating officer, said in December.

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School Board President W. Edward Forrest said that quality-based purchasing is a standard in the public sector and ensures quality work that will last over the long term.

Forrest said the policy was reviewed in April and the school board approved it by a 7-0 vote.

"In the end, we feel that quality-based selection will give you a quality product and facility that will meet the needs of the citizens for at least 60 years," Forrest said.

"It's just totally ridiculous," Washington County Commissioners Vice President William J. Wivell said.

Wivell said the school board was "blindly opening bids."

"It doesn't make sense at all to me," he said.

Wivell and County Commissioner John C. Munson said they thought more than one bid should be opened and that cost should be a bigger factor in awarding the contracts.

"Because you know what? We're messing with taxpayers' dollars," Munson said. "You need to keep the taxpayer in mind."

The board chose to give Grimm & Parker Architects of Bethesda, Md., a contract to design the new Westfields Elementary School south of Hagerstown for $964,130.

It 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.

In a Nov. 28 letter to Rodney Turnbough, the school board's director of facilities management, Bushey Feight Morin said it offered to do the Westfields design for $750,300 and offered a $100,000 discount if the school board used the design for the new Maugansville Elementary School.

Bushey Feight Morin is designing the new Maugansville school.

The firm also offered to do the feasibility study and design plans for Pangborn Elementary School for $997,900.

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

Wivell questioned why the School Board determined the firm was qualified to design Maugansville and the stadium, and not Westfields or Pangborn.

"It's just unbelievable," he said.

Karen R. Luther, Washington County's purchasing agent, said the county doesn't rank proposals. A committee evaluates the proposals and narrows the list. In most cases, contracts are awarded based on low cost unless there's a technical problem with a proposal, she said.

"The majority of the time, it goes by price," Luther said. "It's worked well for us in the past."

In Hagerstown, firms first submit their qualifications for a professional services project. The city narrows them to three or four finalists and ranks them, City Engineer Rodney Tissue said.

Then, the city opens the specific proposals and bids - which are separate from the qualifications - for all of the finalists and generally picks the low bidder, he said.

Gary Rohrer, the county's director of public works, in December defended the quality-based method of purchasing during a commissioners' meeting.

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.

Staff writer Andrew Schotz contributed to this story.

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