Skyrocketing bids delay plans to cool Hawaii's classrooms

Skyrocketing bids delay plans to cool Hawaii's classrooms
Published: Jun. 23, 2016 at 8:32 PM HST|Updated: Jun. 23, 2016 at 11:22 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - The breakdown of the bids to cool portable classrooms at three elementary schools on Oahu show prices even higher than the $135,000 per classroom previously quoted by the Department of Education.

The bid to air condition one portable classroom at Ewa Beach Elementary ranged from a low of $102,000 from CC Engineering to a high bid of about $361,000 submitted by Contech Engineering.

Bids to cool a portable at Aliamanu Elementary ranged from $81,000 to $181,000. At August Ahrens Elementary, bids came in between $92,000 and $240,000 per portable.

"This doesn't add up," Rep. Matt Lopresti said.

Pacific Resource Partnership represents more than 200 contractors. Executive Director John White said the high bids can be explained by the projects' specifications.

"On some sites the specs include not only air conditioning installation but landscaping or re-roofing or upgrading the electrical systems," he said.

Schools are also competing with other state departments for the same small group of specialty contractors.  The DOE said they may be more interested in projects that are less complex and generate more revenue to cooling classrooms.

"So when they see some of those projects, they'll throw a large number at it. if they get the bid then they're happy. But they don't want to spend a lot of time doing that because, one, they just don't have the capacity," said Dann Carlson, DOE Facilities Assistant Superintendent.

Hawaii News Now compared some bid results from the Department of Accounting and General Services with the DOE's AC bids.  DAGs doesn't seem to have the same problem.  Several of its bids came in at or below the original estimate.  The bidders are often the same contractors submitting high bids for the school projects.

Lopresti wants the state's attorney to look into whether the contractors conspired to raise the price for the DOE jobs.

"If profiteering is happening on the suffering of our children then our AG needs to look into this," he said.

"In a construction market that we're in right now no contractor would risk going to jail when they have so much work out there," White said.

Carlson blames high labor costs for contributing to the high bids.  White said state law sets the wages for state jobs.

Only sixteen contractors qualified to bid on the school AC work in the first round. Fifty are qualified to bid when the DOE opens the next round of bids next month.

*The number of portables for each school outlined in the attached documents is as follows: Ewa Beach ES (1); Aliamanu ES (5); Leihoku (13); Nahienaena ES (6); Kekaha ES (2); August Ahrens ES (5) 

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