A Jeffco school board member is questioning the board’s decision to nearly triple the value of a contract for a company doing construction at Westminster’s Standley Lake High School without requesting new bids.
Board member Laura Boggs says the contract change should warrant a new bid process, while board President Lesley Dahlkemper and district staff disagree, saying the district was within its legal rights to amend the contract.
Boggs also contends that the contract should have been discussed at the Jan. 17 board meeting. Because of board rules regarding Superintendent Cindy Stevenson’s consent agenda, Boggs did not have enough support to open discussion on the contract and have a separate vote on it.
“Citizens deserve that level of scrutiny that a bidding process provides,” Boggs said.
Dahlkemper countered: “I think, for me, the most critical thing is, did the board follow the process? Did the district follow the process? … Are we good stewards of taxpayer dollars?”
District policy mandates that if a project will cost more than $50,000, a competitive bidding process must be held for any contracted services and purchases, but additions are allowed on existing contracts.
Haselden Construction, based in Denver, was awarded a contract early in 2012 to make improvements at the school for up to $2.3 million. The voter-approved property-tax increases known as 3A and 3B allowed the district to add to those improvements, and the contract’s value was increased to $6.5 million.
In addition to the mechanical systems repair listed in the original bid, Haselden workers will install new bleachers, make interior improvements, add Americans with Disabilities Act accessibility to parts of the campus, and pave and make improvements to drive lanes.
Boggs contends that the scope of the additional work and its added value were great enough — and different enough from the original contract — that the additions should have been opened up to other companies’ bid proposals.
Haselden might have been the best choice for the entire project, she said, but a second bidding process should have been used.
Cost savings cited
Cheryl Humann, the school district’s executive director of facilities, said additions and subtractions are permitted in the standard contract the district uses when it employs general contractors. Board and district policies don’t limit the dollar amount of those changes.
“We wanted to make sure we went back to the board and told them we were extending (the contract),” Humann said. “But we’re still referring back to that original selection process.”
Humann said that with the additional funding, her staff analyzed whether it would be better to send the new projects out for separate bids and decided using Haselden for the additional work would be best.
Humann said opening the project up to other companies could mean delaying construction, which would mean more disruption to the school’s schedule, even during the summer.
Using Haselden for the extra work saved the district an estimated $319,000 by eliminating the need for additional administrative and staff time, and projected inflation costs, Humann said. It’s also preferable to have one firm managing construction at a single site, she said.
More discussion sought
Boggs maintains that the contract should have been discussed at the Jan. 17 school board meeting. Instead, the contract was adopted as part of the superintendent’s consent agenda.
Most elected boards have consent agendas, which allow them to approve several routine matters with no discussion. Typically, any board member can pull an item off the consent agenda for discussion.
In Jeffco, however, the district also has Stevenson’s consent agenda. A board member has to make a motion to have an item pulled from the agenda, have another board member second it, and have three votes to open discussion.
“If I don’t get a second, there’s no conversation. … There was no second to the motion, and they passed paying $4.2 million to Haselden Construction, which may be the correct thing to do,” Boggs said. “(But) are we seriously saying that, as school board members, we’re just going to rubber-stamp the school district, saying it’s OK to spend $4.2 million?”
Dahlkemper said she believes the policy lets the district be more efficient.
“Any elected official should have the right to pull an item off any agenda,” she said. “We’re elected officials. Our constitution should hold us accountable; we should hold the school district accountable.”
Contributions to 3A/3B campaign
Boggs also cited Haselden Construction’s involvement with the recent campaign for 3A and 3B in last November’s election. Haselden contributed $500 in October 2012 to the Yes on 3A campaign, according to the Colorado secretary of state’s website.
Dahlkemper said the district’s decision to hire Haselden Construction and increase the size of the contract had nothing to do with the company’s contributions, which were made several months after the initial contract award.
“That’s not how we operate,” Dahlkemper countered. “I just think their claims are completely unfounded.”
Of the three other construction companies initially considered for the contract, two also donated to causes related to 3A and 3B: Longmont-based FCI Constructors Inc. donated $1,000 to the Yes on 3A campaign, and Greenwood Village-based GH Phipps Construction Cos. donated $10,000 to Citizens for Jeffco Schools, a campaign committee that supported 3A and 3B.
Only Castle Rock-based MW Golden Constructors didn’t contribute to anything related to Jeffco Public Schools.
Contributions to Fellman campaign
Boggs said board member Jill Fellman should have abstained from voting to approve the Haselden contract from a potential conflict of interest. Haselden Construction donated $150 to Fellman’s 2011 campaign for her school board position.
Fellman said in an e-mail that she consulted with the district’s legal counsel, and that he confirmed there was no reason she shouldn’t vote.
“I have no financial (or any other) connection to Haselden, nor does any member of my family,” Fellman wrote. “I have no personal or private interest in the Haselden contract.”
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