Disparity of almost $500,000 between bid prices for ‘BOB’ building contract raises questions

County commissioner seeks to avoid problems like those that arose over mowing contracts in 2012-13

The county's BOB building is shown from the street. Image from Google Maps
The county’s BOB building is shown from the street. Image from Google Maps

A difference of almost $500,000 between the bid award Sarasota County staff recommended for the replacement of the heating and air conditioning system at the Sarasota County Operations Center — better known as the “BOB” building — and the next lowest bid raised questions from County Commissioner Christine Robinson.

Robinson pulled the item from the board’s Feb. 9 Consent Agenda, which includes routine business items up for approval. “We have had low bids that have failed, and the consequences of those are really tough to deal with,” she pointed out to her colleagues, explaining why she wanted more details before voting on the contract staff recommended go to Ryman Construction of Florida Inc., based in Zephyrhills.

“The BOB building is one of our major [county office facilities],” she added, “so the ramifications of the [potential] failure [of the bid] are dramatic.”

Robinson had been serving on the County Commission slightly more than a year when the board voted 4-1 in January 2012 to award an annual roadside mowing contract to the lowest bidder. In that case, as well, the bid amount was well below the others submitted. The board’s approval came only after the county’s Procurement Office chief at the time asserted that he and his staff were comfortable with their recommendation. Then-Commissioner Joe Barbetta cast the lone “No” vote, voicing worry that problems were bound to arise.

Barbetta proved prescient, because about five months later, the firm that won the contract requested early termination of it, leading to more than 18 months of commission and public exasperation regarding overgrown medians and rights of way before the county was able to get workable new contracts in place.

Commissioner Christine Robinson. File photo
Commissioner Christine Robinson. File photo

During the commission’s Feb. 9 meeting, Jeff Lowdermilk, senior manager of facilities and fleet in the county’s Public Works Department, explained that the solicitation process for the BOB building contract included a mandatory pre-bid meeting and a site visit. “We took ’em on the roof,” he said, “and we are confident that [the Ryman representatives] understood the scope [of the work].”

Further, Lowdermilk said, the firm had to provide five references for projects it had handled that had cost $1 million or more. Staff contacted all those references, he pointed out, and was satisfied with the responses.

Ryman’s bid was $1,325,000, a Procurement Office document shows. The next lowest bid — $1,784,800 — was submitted by Air Mechanical & Service Corp. of Englewood. A third bid came in from Halfacre Construction of Sarasota: $1,979,749.70.

Lowdermilk told the board that the engineering consulting firm the county hired to assist with the project — TLC Engineering for Architecture Inc., which has a Tampa office — estimated the cost of the BOB building project at $1.2 million.

Ted Coyman, the county’s procurement official, took the podium next. “We did call [Ryman] yesterday and reconfirmed that they fully understood the work … and that they were comfortable in holding their price.” He added, “They were, and they were already moving forward with their mobilization plan.”

An aerial view shows the BOB building in eastern Sarasota County. Image from Google Maps
An aerial view shows the BOB building in eastern Sarasota County. Image from Google Maps

Coyman also pointed out that Ryman “is a 28-year-old family-run firm” that is licensed as a roofing and general construction contractor, and it is fully bonded. “We feel that this is the right recommendation to be making.”

“Had that information been in the packet, I wouldn’t have pulled this item [from the Consent Agenda],” Robinson replied. It is important for staff to provide such details to the board in advance of a vote, she said, “when you have such a big disparity [in bids]. That’s a mammoth number,” she added, referring to the difference between the Ryman and Air Mechanical & Service Corp. bids.

After hearing Lowdermilk’s and Coyman’s explanations, Robinson moved to approve the contract with Ryman. The motion passed 5-0.

Ted Coyman. Image courtesy Sarasota County
Ted Coyman. Image courtesy Sarasota County

Formally, the contract is for the replacement of the heating, ventilation and air conditioning system (HVAC) at the Sarasota County Operations Center, located at 1001 Sarasota Center Blvd. in Sarasota.

A memo that was provided to the board as part of its packet for the Feb. 9 meeting notes that the operations center was constructed as a commercial warehouse in 2000; the county purchased the structure in 2001. The HVAC system “is original and at the end of the useful [life cycle],” the memo added. “Significant repair expense has been incurred recently.”
The memo also says the contract calls for a 210-day work schedule, with 180 days to reach “Substantial Completion.”