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Contractors sound off on bid doc changes

Paul Snyder

A few tweaks to bidding documents for state projects could reduce confusion, but contractors are cautioning the state not to go too far with its changes.

“Whether you like the process or not, or whether you’ve made an error or not — which we all have — the system is very fair,” said David Voss, president of Neenah-based Miron Construction Co. Inc.

Voss offered his opinion of state bidding documents at a Wisconsin Department of Administration Division of State Facilities meeting Thursday in Madison. Contractors and builders associations showed up to criticize, support or suggest changes to the documents and bidding procedures.

Suggestions included rescheduling bid opening dates in the wake of last-minute document addendums, scheduling site walk-throughs closer to bid opening dates and adapting an electronic bidding option such as that used by the Wisconsin Department of Transportation.

Despite contractor calls for caution, David Helbach, DSF administrator and secretary of the state Building Commission, said the state could propose changes to bidding documents as early as August.

Helbach said DSF staff members are fielding contractors’ improvement suggestions, and there could be a list of proposed changes for review in a couple of months.

How far those changes go will determine the industry’s reaction, said Jerry Deschane, government affairs lobbyist for Madison-based Axley Brynelson LLP.

“A lot of the clients I work with don’t necessarily want to see changes,” he said. “I think making things easier to understand is good, and I applaud (Helbach) for holding the meeting. But you do have to be careful because pulling that string in any direction upsets the balance.”

John Mielke, vice president of the Associated Builders & Contractors of Wisconsin Inc., said none of the suggestions Thursday would result in drastic changes for contractors.

“I think what you heard was that, overall, things are pretty good,” he said, “and people have confidence in Wisconsin’s system.”

The meeting was the result of an increase in the number of errors on bidding documents in recent months because more companies are looking for work in the downturned economy. Although some mistakes could be shrugged off in the private sector, Helbach said, using his or DSF staff discretion on state bids raises serious fairness questions.

“And the first time I use my discretion,” Helbach said, “you can read the editorials.”

Voss said a few clarifications on state documents would not hurt, but he warned Helbach that tinkering too much with an already-effective system could backfire.

“Right now, you know you’re going to be treated equally,” Voss said. “You have to think about all the ramifications there could be when you make change.”

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