Despite a local steel company’s protest, the Bozeman School Board has approved awarding more than $7 million in construction contracts for the city’s eighth elementary school.

Trustees representing the elementary district voted 5-0 Tuesday to award contracts for steel, carpentry, insulation, roofing, flooring, plumbing, ventilation and electrical systems and other services and supplies.

When added to the $6.7 million in contracts approved in the first round of bidding Aug. 3, that brings the total committed to the project to more than $14 million. Ground was broken this month, and the school is scheduled to open in the fall of 2014.

Some apparent low bidders were disqualified for failing to meet the school district’s requirements. In spite of that, Superintendent Rob Watson stressed, “We’re still under budget” by more than $1.9 million.

Kevin Brownlee of Midwest Steel Industries protested to the School Board that his company’s bid to supply miscellaneous steel in the second round of bids was unfairly disqualified.

The reason the district gave was that Midwest didn’t post “bid security,” such as a cashier’s check or insurance bond, to guarantee it would honor its bid if chosen for the job. Brownlee said in the first round of bids, Midwest’s steel package bid was submitted without bid security, and it won anyway. His company also supplied steel when Hyalite Elementary was built three years ago.

Bid security is usually required of subcontractors, not suppliers like Midwest, Brownlee said.

“In 28 years, I’ve never had to provide bid security,” Brownlee said. “We’re the local guys. Our employees are going to pay taxes” for the new school.

Kevin Barre, the school district’s facilities chief, said the district clearly stated in its advertising and bid documents that bids had to be accompanied by security equal to 10 percent of the bid. Still, several bidders failed to meet the requirement.

It’s in state law, Barre said, that public projects, like schools, must have bid securities.

“We tried to level the playing field, and make it very fair for everybody,” Trustee Denise Hayman told Brownlee. “We’re following the letter of the law.”

After the meeting, Barre explained that the school district wanted the bidding to be fair, open and transparent. So instead of submitting their bids to general contractor-construction manager Langlas & Associates, suppliers and subcontractors were asked to submit directly to the school district in a public bidding process.

Bids were publicly opened and read aloud last week. Three bids for miscellaneous steel were submitted. American Steel’s bid of $143,483 was disqualified because it didn’t submit bid security or acknowledge several “addenda” or changes from the district. Midwest’s bid of $192,625 did acknowledge the changes, but didn’t include bid security. WMK & Co. of Billings submitted a bid of $199,000 with a bond as bid security, and it was accepted.

Barre said in some cases the district accepted bids without security, for example, when there was only one bid. Re-bidding that would likely only result in higher bids.

If any of the apparent winning bidders fall through, the School Board directed Barre to bring backup bids to the board for its approval at the Sept. 10 meeting.

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