Police station bids dismay officials

As city officials opened bids last Thursday from contractors hoping to build Clewiston’s Police Department a new home, their dismay increased as each envelope revealed its contents.

Although seven companies submitted bids, all of them were not only high, they were out of the city’s ballpark. The lowest bid, from DEC Contracting Group Inc., came in at $1,791,194, which is roughly $400,000 more than Clewiston has available for the project.

City Manager Al Perry said in an interview Friday, “I was kind of sick to hear the numbers.”

Other bids were: $2,007,800 from R.E. Crawford Construction LLC; $2,074,010 from Leisure Construction; $2,080,212 from Marmer Construction; $2,125,610 from Johnson Laux Construction; and $2,620,568 from TRON Construction. The seventh firm, McGarvey Development Co., bid nearly $2 million for the basic building and failed to submit amounts for Alternates A and B.

“A” is for extending a large water line to the new building for fire suppression purposes, and is a necessary part of the job, Perry said. “B” is for demolishing the old building, which used to be the city’s fire station years ago. Those parts were separated out from the construction part of the project.

About the amounts, Mr. Perry said: “They’re higher than anybody would like. I was doing the math this morning. We had bids at under $2 a square foot last time we did this, and the average bid was $298 a square foot with these seven. I know the market’s changing and construction price are going up a little bit, but this is ridiculous.”

When bids were first sought, at the end of 2016, interested builders were facing a much shorter time period for construction and, though those bids were lower than this set, the Clewiston City Commission rejected them. They, too, were hundreds of thousands of dollars too high. The city had a state grant commitment of $1.5 million at the time, which Florida’s Legislature renewed this year, but already $100,000-plus has been spent on architectural and engineering plans. City commissioners responded by deciding to shrink the building from 10,000 square feet to about 6,400.

It didn’t help.

“Our architect and engineer didn’t really do us good justice on this,” Mr. Perry said. “I’m not making excuses, but I’m the city manager. We hire professionals to help us through. Commissioner [Michael] Atkinson thought the bids would come in about $1.1 million. He sat here in this office this morning and he goes: ‘This is ridiculous. These guys [would be] making $600,000 profit on this job.’”

Mr. Perry will present the bids to the commission at its next meeting on Aug. 21 but stated, “They’ll all be rejected.”

Clewiston officials now have a new Plan A regarding a different home for the Police Department, which Perry said he’s been working on even through the second bid process, but he could not reveal yet what it is because he’s negotiating to possibly acquire another building that “I think would make a great facility.”

Taking a different approach was a must, he said, because “we don’t have $200,000 extra to put into this project; we don’t even have $50,000 to put into it.”

Another disappointment arising from the current crop of bidders is that none is from Clewiston. “All the contractors are from out of town,” he said. “Not one of them is local. The low bidder last time didn’t even bid.” Mr. Perry said he couldn’t explain why the bids were so high and no builders from the immediate area even tried to win the project.

“I don’t know what’s going on. We had two locals pick up bid packets, and several capable builders here, but none of them even bid. Our architect, Art Castellanos, emailed me yesterday, and he said, ‘We reduced the building by 3,000 square feet, and there is nothing in this building that is a special item.’

“We’re not building a police department, we’re building a building,” Mr. Perry added, the frustration evident in his voice. “The only thing that’s a specialty item would be some bulletproof glass when you walk in that would hide the front office of the station.”

And resizing the space again is not an option, he said.

“There was a whole committee that worked on this, and when you have a set of plans that took us such a long time to draw up, to shrink them, everything has to change — the wiring, the plumbing, etc. It’ll cost you $50,000 every time the architect picks it up.”

Mr. Perry said he has high hopes for the new Plan A. “It looks very promising, and we’re talking numbers now. I’d rather do that (buy an existing building) than build a new one here.”

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