City building contracts raise questions
Appeal Staff Writer
A process that has given all major city building contracts to one business produces the best work, supporters say, but others criticize the system as not fair to taxpayers and most businesses.
Carson City Hall has picked Metcalf Builders as a manager for all its projects, including the expansion of the senior center, the remodel of the health department building, the construction of the new sheriff’s office and the work on the planned $9 million recreation center.
The city does not pick the lowest-bidding general contractor for these types of projects. Instead, it chooses a construction manager, which helps the public works department oversee building.
The business is approved by the board of supervisors and selected from a group of applicants by a committee.
Using a construction manager saves money, supporters say, because the business can be objective and does not have any incentive during the complicated building process to try to renegotiate fees.
The city started using construction managers for major projects after its problems with the contractor it hired in 1998 to build the new city pool. The city and the contractor got in a fight over the quality of work and payments, and that led them to court.
The city eventually was forced not only to pay the contractor almost $4 million, but had to bring in another contractor in 2000 to fix and finish the pool.
That contractor was Metcalf Builders.
It has since been awarded more than $3 million in projects as a construction manager for the city.
‘A fair shake’
Mark Beauchamp, of Shaheen Beauchamp Builders, has criticized the use of construction managers since the first contract was given to Metcalf in 2001 for the senior center expansion.
The construction manager doesn’t have an incentive to keep costs down, Beauchamp said, or to get the lowest bids possible from subcontractors.
The city has lost hundreds of thousands of dollars because managers do not get low enough bids from subcontractors, he said.
Supporters say the problems Beauchamp points to are isolated incidents.
Construction management fees, which are supposed to be stable compared to general contractor costs, did more than double during the senior center expansion.
“Why pay higher fees for less responsibility?” Beauchamp said.
Miles Construction says construction management is good in general, but the way the city has handled the process is unfair.
The fact that Metcalf had done pre-construction work for the recreation center, sheriff’s office and health department building before a construction manager was chosen for the jobs gave the business an advantage, said Cary Richardson, a vice president for Miles Construction.
“We just want a fair shake,” Richardson said. “That’s it.”
Pre-construction work also does not have to be approved by the board of supervisors if it is less than $25,000. Metcalf was picked in 2006 to do this kind of work, which included a recreation center feasibility study as well as health building preliminary work – each job for about $24,900.
A small town
But Andy Burnham, Carson City public works director, said that price is common and that work for these projects is awarded randomly to qualified businesses on a list organized by trade.
The pre-construction work also had nothing to do with why Metcalf Builders was picked as construction manager for the projects, said Tom Metcalf, chief executive officer of the business.
He added that some sort of work before construction is inevitable and pointed out that even though he was on a committee to raise bonds for recent Carson City School District work, Miles Construction has gotten the last two construction management jobs for that.
Miles was the most qualified, said Mike Mitchell, district director of operations, but its strong work on the first project did influence the committee that picked it for the second project.
“If you have a good experience and don’t have any reason to change,” he said, “I don’t believe in changing.”
Metcalf’s work has, in the same way, helped it get picked as a construction manager for the city, Burnham said.
Metcalf’s private work includes the Casino Fandango expansion, the Eagle Valley Medical Center and the $20 million Southern Nevada Veterans Home in Boulder City.
The district does try not to have any physical work done before construction, though, Mitchell said, because “we don’t want to get into bed with any one of these construction managers before going through the process.”
Beauchamp, whose business built the new Harley-Davidson dealership last year, said this kind of favoritism, however, is inevitable in all construction management processes because “it gets down to politics and personality.”
Carson City can be competitive town, Metcalf said, but Metcalf Builders respects the city as well as other contractors.
“Why did we get the city work?” he said. “We were more qualified. Bottom line.”
• Contact reporter Dave Frank at email@example.com or 881-1212.