Chamber raises concerns over school bid process
November 11, 2009
Alice Campbell Havre Daily News [email protected]
While numerous members of the Havre Area Chamber of Commerce were in attendance, only two spoke about the Construction Manager at Risk process being used for an addition at Highland Park Early Primary School South during the Havre Public Schools Board of Trustees meeting Tuesday evening. "We felt as a chamber that it was our job to present our opinion ... ," said Brian Jenkins, a chamber board member, about the decision to award He l e n a - b a s e d Di c k An d e r s o n Construction Inc. the project over local Clausen and Sons Inc. General Contractors. The intent of a letter sent by the chamber to the board was not to "strong arm" the board or to change the decision, Jenkins said. "We didn't understand the process," he said, suggesting that the issue presents an opportunity for discussion and learning to move forward. If more information had been divulged or if, what Jenkins said could have been wrong information, had been corrected, people might have understood better, Jenkins said. Debi Rhines, a local business coowner, told trustees that they have shown a "lack of integrity" through the process and their handling of informing the public about their decision. She referred to a letter she sent in opposition to the board's choice of an out-of-town contractor. She was told that the board's response to that letter was in the newspaper. Because of an article in Tuesday's newspaper concerning the chamber's letter, she asked: "Have you now appointed the Havre Daily News your communication director?" The board turned the chamber's letter over to the Havre Daily Friday after it was requested by the paper. During the correspondence section of the agenda, school board Chairman Shad Huston acknowledged receipt of the letter from the chamber, but there was no discussion. He has repeatedly said that the board stands behind the d e c i s i o n t o awa rd An d e r s o n Construction Inc. the project. Anderson won the bid over Great Falls-based Sletten Companies and Clausen and Sons. Trustees voted during the summer to use the Construction Manager at Risk process for choosing a contractor for the $1.5 million addition to the school. Using that process, contractors who bid that they can complete the project for no more than a set budget were interviewed. Any additional costs in completion of the project have to be absorbed by the contractor. The bid-winning construction firm is named the project's Construction Manager, and subcontractor bids go Out during the process. The process allows the schools to work closely with the engineering firm and the contractor during the planning phases of the project, the schools wrote in statement explaining the process. No sub bids have gone out yet, but when they do, local contractors wishing to bid will have the opportunity, Huston has said. Trustees agreed that using the construction manager process would speed construction before low costs rise. Also, Huston, said in an earlier interview, speeding the process allows the schools to use stimulus dollars that will mean the addition project which will create enough space for all the district's kindergarten and first-grade students to be under one roof can be completed by next fall instead of several years down the road. When the board initially decided to fund a new roof for Havre Middle School over the addition project, they did so as a matter of necessity, but it used most of the building reserve. Using stimulus dollars allows both projects to be done quickly, Huston said. Trustee Norm Proctor, who made the initial motion to award the bid to Anderson, said during the October meeting when the decision was made that the board has a responsibility to spend taxpayer dollars wisely. Anderson came in at a slightly lower estimated cost per square foot than the other contractors, and if stimulus dollars don't cover the entire project cost, a lower price could save local taxpayer dollars needed to make up the difference. Awarding the project to Anderson passed on a vote of 4 to 2, with Darlene Bricker and Harvey Capellen voting against. Capellen said during the meeting that he had been impressed by Sletten. There was no discussion of Clausen and Sons during the bid-award discussion at the October meeting. In other schools news: Hill County Superintendent of Schools Shirley Isbell asked trustees to make a decision about whether they are willing to have approximately 380 acres that bring in about $175 in tax revenue currently in District A switched to North Star's district. A land transfer years ago failed to make the switch, and the county can make the change based solely on the error, Isbell said, but she wanted the board to know what was going on and make the decision. "It's not a big concern," she said. Every five years she reviews district boundaries, she said. "I just want to clean up a few loose ends." Trustees decided to vote on the issue at their Tuesday, Dec. 8 meeting. Trustees addressed an employee grievance in the third step of protocol during a closed executive session. Huston said the session warranted being closed because information about other employees of the district, other than the employee with the grievance, were being discussed in relation to the complaint. The complaint has been through the personnel director, the superintendent and the board, and now, Huston said, he has 14 days to give a written response. Trustees discussed their recent trip to a state educator's conference. Bricker said she enjoyed a session on the correlation between student success and parental involvement and what schools in Great Falls and Eureka are doing to measure it. She also attended a session on technology and said she was interested to learn that almost any writing board can be turned into a smart board for about $600. "It was a great experience," trustee Lee Christianson said. He attended sessions on technology, the budget process and the clerk's role, and the relationship between the superintendent, board chair and clerk. Huston said he also enjoyed the conference. "We're doing the exact same things they're talking about," he said. S u p e r i n t e n d e n t D ave Mahon told trustees that he received a letter from Gov. Brian Schweitzer congratulating the schools on the receipt of a Qual i ty Schools grant . "Congratulations on receiving Quality Schools Program funding for energy efficiency updates, and thank you for your commitment to your students and faculty," Schweitzer wrote. An accreditation team will visit Montana State University- Northern's campus beginning Sunday, Fred Smi l ey o f Northern told the trustees. He invited them and any other people interested to attend a gathering Sunday from 4 to 6 p.m. at the Student Union Building bal lroom. The visi t ends Wednesday. Superintendent evaluation forms are due to Clerk Zella Witter by Sunday, Nov. 15. The s u p e r i n t e n d e n t mu s t b e informed in writing by Feb. 1 if his contract will be renewed or not.