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Lawsuit possible in Culpeper school bid dispute

BY DONNIE JOHNSTON

It is almost as if someone or some thing has jinxed the Culpeper High School renovation project.

Already three months behind schedule, the project may now face another stumbling block—a lawsuit.

Less than 10 days after the School Board accepted Taft Construction’s $15.878 million bid, Neilsen Builders of Harrisonburg cried foul and filed a bid protest.

That protest, which the School Board Thursday night voted 6–0 to reject, claims that Neilsen, not Taft, was the low bidder and that the School Board violated the Virginia Public Procurement Act in awarding the contract to Taft.

Neilsen’s primary argument is that both the School Board and the School Board’s Construction Oversight Committee “factored in a desired change in the controls manufacturer to Automated Logic as part of the bid process.”

Neilsen claims that the control system was not included in a list of seven alternates that were part of the bid documents and thus cannot legally be considered.

That, Neilsen argues, gives them the low bid at $15.84 million and they should have been awarded the contract. In some cases government bodies are not required to accept the lowest bid.

When the bid was awarded to Taft on Dec. 17, construction projects manager Hunter Spencer said that Taft’s bid, which included a change to the Automated Logic control system, was $27,000 lower than Neilsen.

With the possibility of litigation looming, last night’s School Board discussion of the matter took place in closed session with their attorney, Rodney Young  Only the vote to reject was done in open session.

Asked after the meeting about the possibility of a lawsuit, board member George Dasher would only say, “We’ve got a good, solid argument. We’ll see what they do.”

The School Board’s argument is that while the control system was not listed as an alternate, the bid form did ask that bidders indicate “the proposed control system manufacturer used in compiling the base bid ”

Neilsen and its attorneys, Clark & Bradshaw of Harrisonburg, have 10 days from today to respond.

Culpeper voters approved a $21 million bond referendum in November 2011 for renovation of the 43-year-old high school.

Bids were solicited in August in hopes that construction could begin in October. Those first bids, however, were rejected because they all fell in the $19 million to $20 million range. After engineering, legal and soft costs, the School Board had only $17.5 million available for actual construction.

The project was then re-bid with plan changes, and nine companies submitted bids in early December. Taft was then recommended by the Oversight Committee and accepted by the School Board.

No actual construction has yet begun on the beleaguered project.

Board member Rusty Jenkins was absent.

Donnie Johnston:

djohnston@freelancestar.com

Permalink: http://news.fredericksburg.com/newsdesk/2013/01/03/lawsuit-possible-in-culpeper-school-bid-dispute/

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