Connecticut Bidding Mishap Raises Statewide Questions
(09/26/2012)

MILFORD, Conn. — A procedural error in the bid process for a school construction project in Connecticut has recently led to questions about multiple projects across the state, whose funding may suddenly be in doubt.

Milford city attorney, Jonathan Berchem discovered the mistake when he was reviewing a bid award announcement for a $12 million construction project at East Shore Middle School. Berchem determined the school might disqualify itself for $6 million in state funding if it went through with the scheduled bid award. Berchem discovered the school system failed to post a bid announcement on Connecticut’s State Contracting Portal website. The state requires all projects involving schools or local governments to post bid announcements to the site for any project exceeding $500,000 in construction cost.

The school reached out to other administrators and found they were also unaware of the requirement, according to the New Haven Register.

“Milford Board of Education operations officer, James L. Richetelli Jr. surveyed 20 respondents from across the state, and 75 percent said they never heard about the state’s portal posting requirements.”

The newspaper added that local and state officials anonymously indicated there were likely many projects that have awarded bids for projects requesting state funding that failed to meet this standard. The sources added that it was possible for the state to reject funding for multiple projects based upon this failure to comply.

This particular law was passed in 2009, adding to previous rules dictating that bid announcements be posted in local newspapers. Matthew Woods, chairman of the Milford permanent school facilities building committee, said he would wait for the state’s Department of Administrative Services to provide clarification on the issue before taking any action, such as rescinding the bid award.

Rebidding the project could significantly change the outcome, as the two lowest bids were within several thousand dollars of each other, and two other contractors were ruled to be late in submitting bids. The contract was originally awarded to local company, Bismark Construction, at $10.8 million, only $3,000 less than Paragon Construction Company, from neighboring New Haven.

The project involves building eight new classrooms, along with additional facilities dedicated to art and media studies. The construction also includes an expansion of the cafeteria to accommodate more students and a renovation of the kitchen. Rebidding the project at this stage could leave the school system open to a lawsuit from Bismark, but even if successful, the cost of such a violation would signify pennies on the dollar compared to the $6 million the school could lose in state reimbursement. There is little argument that the school needs this project, as officials already made the difficult decision to stick to the $12 million budget, after a strong debate in February about raising it to $16 million.

At the time, the Milford Mirror reported the school had eleven teachers “work from carts, meaning they don’t have their own classroom space but push their material to available space using a cart.”

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