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Group investigates bid doc uniformity

Sean Ryan
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Municipalities might never embrace standardized bidding documents, but at least one builder argues the practice could cure a lot of headaches.

After the city of Racine rejected his company’s bid because it submitted the wrong form, Henry J. Wilkens said he wishes there was some uniformity among the documents.

Wilkens, senior project manager and director of the construction division at Bane-Nelson Inc., Kenosha, saw his company’s $80,500 bid for the exterior restoration of Racine’s Memorial Hall rejected because the contractor used the original bid form, instead of an amended version.

The city on Thursday and Friday rejected all bids for both Memorial Hall and the exterior restoration of City Hall. It received and rejected bids from Arnie Christiansen Mason Contractor LLC, Franksville, and Building Restoration & Preservation Inc., Racine, on both of the contracts, said Racine Public Works Director Rick Jones.

“The other ones had multiple forms that were not completed or not signed or not submitted,” he said, adding the city will rebid both contracts this summer.

Wilkens said there likely was an internal mix-up at Bane-Nelson that caused him to miss the revised bid document; a different estimator was originally handling the contract, he said. He said ultimately it is the contractors’ responsibility to follow each owner’s rules when it comes to submitting bids.

“It’s in the book and it’s plain as day, and somebody has to take the time to read it at the front end,” he said.

“We have one person that does that full-time.”

But it would be easier for contractors if public owners made their documents more uniform, Wilkens said.

“It’s a definite problem because we do a lot of bidding for the city of Kenosha that does something totally different,” he said. “Then you go into Kenosha County and Racine County, and they’re different. And you go to the state, and they’re different.”

The Wisconsin Association of Public Purchasers is investigating ways to standardize public bidding documents, said Robert Anderson, director of the Wisconsin Technical College System Purchasing Consortium and chairman of the association’s Cooperative Purchasing Committee. Construction bid documents, however, are more complicated than those used for buying materials or services, he said.

The committee is starting by working on standardizing bid documents for materials. If it is successful, it will move on to services and then construction, he said.

“We recognize that standardization, where it makes sense, helps vendors respond efficiently and quickly and accurately,” Anderson said. “We think it is a worthwhile effort to try, and we’ll see how far we go with it.”

Anderson said he does not know how far the committee can take standardization because local laws affect wording in bidding documents. He said it is likely municipalities could use standard contracts as a starting point and add different components to satisfy local rules.

“That’s one of the reasons why we’re going to start with the simple stuff and work our way up,” Anderson said. “We think there’s some commonality we could use, but I think it’s highly doubtful that there is one set of bidding documents we could use across the state because (different owners are) organized under different statutes.”

While pushing for uniformity might sound like a good idea, it could prove difficult, said Oak Creek City Engineer Wayne St. John. He said bid rejections are not common enough to spur municipalities into action.

“The problem for us is not immediate there, so how much effort do we put into trying to get a form?” St. John asked. “Then, if you have a universal form, do you get different legal opinions over what’s correctable error and what’s not?”

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