To bid or make a change order…that was the question
By Elsa Maxey
This month, the Missouri City Council approved a change order for the ongoing construction of its surface water treatment plant with Pepper Lawson Construction amounting to $1,063,327.95. But it was after an intense discussion of issues brought up by Councilmember Danny Nguyen. The change order proposed by staff was for additional work and changes in the project scope for what includes conversion to chloramines, slope stabilization of an access road, additional dirt for completion of a reservoir closure, and power/control wiring to values. As complicated as it sounds, this is a component of a $52 million project calling for the construction of a surface water treatment plant to be operational by 2012.
“We need to have more options,” about the selection of contracts, said Nguyen. “Do we have the legal right to choose whether we treat this one as a change order or do we bid it separately?”
City Attorney Caroline Kelley said the project could be severed from the overall surface water treatment plant affirming that it could be bid separately.
Nguyen also questioned why the project was not bid out noting that cost comparisons to justify a change order over bidding were not necessarily valid. Similar projects cited date back to 2007, he said, when construction costs were much higher than they are now.
Interim city manager Alan Mueller said he recommended the change order process given the time table as well as bids received from other contractors on similar contracts. Presenting the proposal to city council, Assistant City Manager Scott Elmer said the city would also be getting credits for the operation of the treatment plant and realize a value of $2,500 per day for early conversion.
Back in July, Nguyen said he had wanted to pursue his understanding of the scope of the multimillion dollar project, but said he had not been given an opportunity to express himself. Councilmember Robin Elackatt suggested that had it been the case, there may have been ample time to bid the project.
“We promised our citizens that we would do the best that we can,” said Nguyen noting that saving a few thousand dollars is not unreasonable. “We should try and answer to our citizens that we are acting responsibly,” he said followed by clapping from those in attendance at the city council meeting.
Mayor Pro Tem Jerry Wyatt recognized how the city would be in a quicker position to deliver with a change order. He also said that citizens were not obligated to pay anything back since the project operations are revenue based. The change order would result in a cost difference of $400,000 less, said City Manager Alan Mueller based on several assumptions with which Nguyen took issue. It was however, speculated that Pepper Lawson could bid among other companies, but it would probably do it at a higher cost than the amount negotiated by city staff.
Mayor Pro Tem Wyatt said he learned during the meeting that council could have bid the project and requested “clean information and I didn’t get that.” Two options were discussed in August and “obviously we did not do a good job at communicating that,” said the interim city manager.
Nugyen recommended negotiating the change order downward, and acknowledged that city staff had done a good job, but he said city officials need to challenge their proposals by using analytical skills. “What staff did was with the best of intentions,” said Wyatt. “We still need to challenge assumptions,” said Nguyen.
“We need to move forward and knowing that going forward that we don’t do this again,” said Mayor Allen Owen.