Error causes Findorff to back off low bid for Waukesha job
J.H. Findorff & Son Inc. is trying to walk away from a Waukesha County project after realizing the company’s low bid was based on a $220,000 mistake.
“Unfortunately, errors do occur,” said Mike Dillis, vice president of Madison-based Findorff, “and that’s the nature of errors, and you try to be perfect with what you do every day.”
The contractor Thursday will seek Waukesha County’s permission to withdraw a bid for construction of a maintenance building at the Retzer Nature Center.
Findorff omitted an item when the contractor was adding together its final bid price on a computer spreadsheet, creating a $475,225 bid that was about $89,000 less than that from the next-lowest bidder, Dillis said.
“After we were at the bid opening and saw that we were low,” Dillis said, “we were a little puzzled that we were as low as we were.”
Findorff on March 5, which was the day after the bid opening, requested a bid withdrawal, said Ken Keeley, Waukesha County senior landscape architect. The Findorff bid did not include the cost of earthwork and site preparation, both of which amounted to about $220,000, he said.
It was an unusual request, so county parks staff members have spent the past month consulting with county attorneys on how statutes and case law dictate the situation be handled, Keeley said. It was an obvious and seemingly honest error pointed out almost immediately by the contractor, so the county can legally let Findorff withdraw, Keeley said.
Dennis Cerreta, county architect, said he has not encountered a bid error of this size since he started working for the county 10 years ago. In the private sector, the parties usually let a contractor change the bid and move on if there is an obvious error, said Cerreta, former owner of the The Cerreta Group Ltd., a former architecture firm based in Waukesha.
“When I was in business for 20 or 25 years, it’s very rare,” he said. “You can usually figure it out, but here there are rules you have to follow.”
The county’s Public Works Committee on Thursday morning will consider Findorff’s withdrawal request and whether to return the company’s $47,522 bid bond. County staff will recommend the committee return the bid bond and let Findorff withdraw its proposal, said Dale Shaver, Waukesha County director of parks and land use.
If Findorff withdraws, Creative Constructors LLC, Menomonee Falls, is next in line to get the project.
“We’re looking forward to doing it,” said Brian LaBonte, vice president of Creative Constructors, “and it’ll go a long way in helping us out.”
LaBonte said Findorff handled the situation correctly. Confusion and problems arise on contracts if builders do not fess up to errors and instead ask for midproject change orders, he said.
It’s not often a builder asks for bid withdrawal, LaBonte said.
“I’m sure errors happen all of the time,” he said, “But they don’t get reported.”
A potential streak of change orders on the Retzer project is incentive for the county to let Findorff withdraw, Keeley said. With a $220,000 discrepancy between the project bid and actual price, every invoice could include a change order, he said.
Dillis said he’s been with Findorff since 1982 and has not before encountered a situation similar to this.
“I would consider it to be an extremely rare type of occurrence,” he said.