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Paperwork cuts contractor from project

Dustin Block
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A contractor lost a $480,000 job with the city of Racine because the company did not follow bidding instructions.

Highland Hills Landscape Contractors Inc., Racine, submitted the low bid for the spring project but was bypassed because it did not use the city’s spec book to bid on the project, said Keith Haas, general manager of the Racine Water and Wastewater utilities.

A.W. Oakes & Son Inc., Racine, won the contract last week with a $493,934 bid. Highland Hills bid was $480,365.43.

Highland Hills was the only one of 10 bidders not to use the city’s spec book, Haas said. The city would have been vulnerable to a lawsuit if it had accepted the low bid, he said.

“I have to make decisions based on what’s in black and white, rather than on the monetary difference,” Haas said. “I have to respect the sanctity of the bidding process.”

The city might still get sued. Rob Dresen, a manager at Highland Hills, said the company will hire an attorney to review the contractor’s options. He declined further comment.

Racine’s water utility was hiring a contractor to replace water mains under city streets being repaved this spring, Haas said. The work was split into two projects to let small contractors bid on the work, Haas said. A.W. Oakes won both phases of the contract.

Highland Hills had never before bid on a Racine water project and dropped off its bid hours before the deadline, Haas said. But the company was named a responsible bidder by the city’s Public Works Department in February and had good references, he said.

“They seem like a good contractor,” Haas said. “They have a good background and they’re capable of doing the work.”

But, he added, inexperience may have hurt the company.

“They were the new kid on the block,” Haas said.

Highland Hills’ problem might have originated through a subscription Web site –, which is owned by Construction Data Co., Vero Beach, Fla. — that collects bid information for contractors, Haas said.

Highland Hills used the site to download files of Racine’s spec book and wrote the bid on the downloaded sheets, he said.

That violated the Racine department’s “Instruction to Bidders.” A copy of the instructions, provided by Haas, states contractors must submit bids on the “standard proposal form furnished by the owner.”

Dick Wanta, executive director of the Wisconsin Underground Contractors Association, said he never heard of a contractor losing a job because of incorrect paperwork. He questioned if the Web site, which costs $1,395 for a subscription to southern Wisconsin jobs, was offering a fair product to builders.

“If someone is going provide a service like this,” Wanta said, “they have to make sure it’s acceptable to the municipalities.”

Representatives from Construction Data were unavailable to comment before deadline.

Racine’s water utility has used its spec book for decades, Haas said. The book is available for free at the utility or for $20 by mail.

The department is reviewing its policies to make sure it is current with modern technology, but Haas said he does not anticipate the utility making significant changes to how it accepts bids.

Haas said Highland Hills is the first contractor he knew of to lose a job for not following instructions. But he stood by the decision, saying the utility must follow the rules.

“I would say in this current bidding climate,” Haas said, “where things are so tight between contractors, hiring lawyers and attorneys is an avenue contractors have available to them to contest things.”

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