Kenosha school officials blamed the inexperience of Hunzinger Construction Co. and J.P. Cullen & Sons Inc. in barring the companies from bidding on an estimated $8.5 million school restoration.
Brookfield-based Hunzinger and Janesville-based Cullen were left off the Kenosha Unified School District’s list of qualified bidders to restore the limestone exterior of Walter Reuther Central High School. The district instead chose Berglund Construction and Bulley & Andrews LLC, both of Chicago, and Mark1 Restoration Co., Dolton, Ill., to bid on the job. Insight Consulting Services LLC, Madison, is the project architect.
Michael Fabishak, chief executive of the Associated General Contractors of Greater Milwaukee Inc., ripped the decision in an April 1 letter to the district and asked officials to reconsider letting the Wisconsin companies bid on the work.
But Patrick Fennimore, facilities director for Kenosha Unified, said the district is sticking with the Illinois companies. All three are experts in limestone restoration and better suited for the job than Hunzinger or Cullen, he said.
“They have 100 or 200 stone masons each who do this work all day long,” Fennimore said. “There’s a dramatic difference in their level of experience and qualifications.”
In an interview, Fabishak said there is no way Cullen or Hunzinger — two of southeastern Wisconsin’s largest contractors — are incapable of doing the work.
“You’re not talking about a couple of neophytes when it comes to restoration,” he said.
Larry Rocole, vice president of Cullen’s Milwaukee division, said his company is easily qualified to do the work. Cullen completed the $65 million restoration of Milwaukee’s City Hall and the $240 million restoration of the state Capitol. Both were more substantial than the 18-month restoration of Kenosha’s alternative high school, he said.
Kenosha’s decision to choose specialty companies to bid on the job likely increased the project cost, Rocole said. He estimated Cullen’s bid on the Reuther project would be $400,000 less than what the smaller Illinois contractors will bid.
But Fennimore said the Illinois companies had a “staggering” amount of experience compared to Cullen or Hunzinger. Berglund restored 300 limestone buildings in the past seven years compared to just three by Hunzinger and Cullen combined, Fennimore said. Kenosha Unified is focusing on the experience because previous restoration work on Reuther High School went poorly.
A contractor used the wrong mortar in 1993, and pieces of the exterior are now chipping off the building, Fennimore said. The job will require the contractor to remove the limestone, rebuild the school’s steel structure and then replace the stone.
But Rocole said Kenosha Unified is being disingenuous. The district never said Cullen was unqualified, he said, it simply chose not to include the company on the list of eligible builders.
It’s a key distinction that hints at favoritism, Rocole said.
“If you’re qualified you’re qualified,” he said. “They never said we couldn’t do the work.”
Fennimore said Kenosha Unified is not biased against Wisconsin companies. He estimated at least 95 percent of the district’s construction work in the last 10 years has gone to Wisconsin contractors. On the Reuther school project, the Illinois companies had an advantage because Chicago has enough stone buildings to let contractors specialize in this type of work.
“The city of Chicago has more (stone buildings) on an order of magnitude more than all of Wisconsin combined,” Fennimore said. “This is a rare type of building for our state.”
Fabishak said his letter spoke to the larger issue of Wisconsin communities supporting Wisconsin companies, especially in a recession. State taxpayers pay for public schools and many other government services, he said.
“I’m not suggesting the work should go to a Wisconsin company,” Fabishak said, “but they should at least be eligible to bid on it.”