The University of Missouri–St. Louis (UMSL) is adding nearly 75,000 square feet to the Benton-Stadler science complex at their College of Arts and Sciences campus in Bel Nor, but the way the electrical contract was awarded for the project and how it was eventually awarded to a general contractor using an inexperienced, Local 57 subcontractor is reason for concern.
Local 57 is a non-AFL-CIO electricians union within the Carpenters’ District Council.
The bidding process used on the project bears some scrutiny.
UMSL put the project out for bid on Aug. 12, 2013.
Wright Construction was originally selected as the low bidder; however, the company was later disqualified by UMSL for not meeting minimum experience requirements. The project was then awarded to the second lowest bidder K&S Associates, Inc.
Briner Electric, a 118-year-old company which helped build much of the UMSL campus in the 1960s, was originally listed as the primary electrical subcontractor in both the Wright Construction and K&S bids (as well as numerous others).
However, K&S changed its bid to substitute PowerUp for Briner Electric shortly after being awarded the contract.
PowerUp has been in business less than three years and does not pay area standard wages to its employees according to their contract.
Not meeting experience requirements was the reason given for not awarding the contract to the lowest bidding general contractor. However, the University didn’t raise the experience issue for the subcontractor, even though the bid package required a minimum of three years for the electrical contractor.
CONFLICT OF INTEREST?
The electrical engineering firm of record for the project is KAI Design and Build.
Michael B. Kennedy Jr. is both the president of KAI Design & Build and the president of PowerUp Electrical. The University sought KAI’s recommendation, which gives the appearance at least of impropriety due to a potential conflict of interest.
The National Society of Professional Engineers (NSPE) Code of Ethics requires engineers to act as faithful agents and to disclose any potential conflicts of interest.
In the case of the UMSL contract, Kennedy was responsible for reviewing drawings and technical specifications of a portion of the bids but was also the principal of one of the companies submitting a bid. This wasn’t disclosed and it doesn’t appear a waiver for the conflict was ever issued.
CONFIDENTIALITY OF BID PROCESS IN QUESTION
The confidentiality of the bid process is also in question.
Originally, K&S Associates’ bid included a $2,983,730 bid from Briner Electric that was submitted at 1:46PM on September 5 and was the lowest electrical bid by more than $50,000. PowerUp contacted K&S Associates sometime between 1:45 p.m. and 1:55 p.m. to lower their bid to $2,992,800. K&S Associates chose PowerUp over Briner Electric because the difference in the bids was now less than $10,000 and they had past experience with them.
Due to the timing, concerns about the last minute bid adjustment by PowerUp are reasonable.
This project could have been awarded to an electrical contractor with over a century of experience, including history with this very facility who also happened to submit the lowest bid. Instead, a contractor with less experience, who submitted a higher bid was given the job.
The choice leads to reasonable concerns about the fairness of the process.