ELIZABETHTOWN — Elizabethtown Town Council members awarded a bid Tuesday for construction of the new airport terminal to Graka Builders, a Whiteville-based company that came in with the third-lowest bid. Before doing so, however, they talked about a near miss.
“We took bids and were moving toward making a recommendation to award the lowest bidder, but a few weeks ago, we were made aware of some concerns,” said Brigid Williams, project engineer with W.K. Dickson & Co. “We decided to do reference checks on the three lowest bidders based on feedback we received about the lowest and second lowest.
“We can’t recommend moving forward with either (the lowest or second lowest) and are instead presenting information that says we feel like the third bidder needs to be considered,” she added.
The lowest bidder was Burney & Burney Construction Co., a Greenville-based company that came in at $1,262,000. Williams presented the board with feedback from two former clients, one of whom cited problems with price control that necessitated mediation for resolution, and the second of whom stated that problems with completion of the project also required conflict intervention. A third client said its company had not encountered any problems.
The second-lowest bidder, Paragon Building Corporation, priced the project at $1,278,571. Of four former clients, one — citing poor work quality, lack of management of subcontractors, deception about project schedules, and lack of communication between subcontractors — said its organization would not recommend the company. A second recommended to proceed with caution but would not comment on the work. A third said the project was on time and under budget, but would not comment on the overall management of the project, and a fourth communicated satisfaction based on a 20-year relationship.
“Have you ever had this happen?” questioned Mayor Sylvia Campell.
“I have never encountered this situation before,” responded Williams.
The board turned to Town Attorney Goldston Womble for legal questions regarding the ability of the board to award the bid to anyone but the lowest bidder.
“The statute says you take the lowest responsible bidder, which takes into account performance,” Womble advised. “Those types of issues you’re entitled to look at, and it’s not an unusual thing in my experience. It’s always been my position that we take the advice of an engineer — that’s what you’re hiring them for.”
When it was suggested the board re-start the bidding process, Town Manager Eddie Madden said the bids were only good until Friday, and re-opening the project would only increase the amounts, as construction costs are continually rising.
Councilman Dicky Glenn questioned whether the third-lowest bid would still mean the project would be under the amount of the grant received to complete it.
“The difference will be made up by the Airport Commission,” Madden answered, adding the difference would be approximately $85,000.
The Council approved a protest process allowing aggrieved bidders to submit a protest within five days and awarded the project to Graka Builders, which bid $1,350,000.
Chrysta Carroll can be reached by calling 910-862-4163.