Delay isn't expected to affect fall 2005 move-in date for OP School

ILWACO - Tuesday, June 29, was supposed to be an exciting day for leaders of Ocean Beach School District [OBSD]. It was the day they would open bids for big construction jobs at Ocean Park and Long Beach Elementary Schools.

Unfortunately, things didn't go as planned, resulting in the school district's board of directors voting to reject those bids last Wednesday night - a move that will set back the beginning of construction in Ocean Park by at least another month.

"I think 'concerned' is a good word," said board chairman Ed Guelfi the day after, "we'd be silly if we weren't.

"We will get there, I just don't know how yet."

The OBSD really only received two bids - one for both schools and one for just Ocean Park. The lack of other bids led to a lack of competition, with both bidders well over the budget of the district - in the case of one bidder, 20 percent over for the Ocean Park job. Guelfi noted when they went out to bid for the asbestos abatement job at Ocean Park earlier in the year, they received five bids, which offered them a comparison.

Guelfi said the board was surprised by how high the main school construction bids came in.

"We spent money on all these things [constructability plan] so we had a real good idea of what these bids should be around and they're not, they're high," he said.

It was estimated in the constructability plan the buildings would cost $157 per square foot on average. The bids were over $200 per square foot.

Though disappointed by the setback, Guelfi said the board had to be smart.

"We have to be good stewards of the money that was handed to us," he said of the publicly supported bond that is funding the projects.

The architects hired by the district to design plans for the new schools will now go back to the drawing board to see if there are ways of lowering the cost of the jobs. Guelfi said they will be putting a dollar and priority values on things that could be removed to save money. These changes will only be made if the savings were significant, Guelfi said.

The district hopes to go back out to bid in about a month, with construction starting in September. As of May, the district planned to have had construction on the Ocean Park site begin in July.

"We think we'll still be able to meet the timeline of getting the kids into Ocean Park before the start of school in 2005," said district Superintendent Tom Lockyer. "Most people believe it's a 10-month project, so we have some wiggle room. The completion time frames [for both schools] are still in line."

Though going back out to bid will not cost the district any money, it does raise the question, "How do they know it will be any better this time around?"

"That's a hard one," said Guelfi. "We have to hope. We know that if there's more competition, they can give us a better bid. We certainly have to do the what-if's."

The "what-if's" could also be called a contingency plan, one that would outline what the district will do if the bidding doesn't change - one that the board hadn't discussed prior to now.

"That's the what-if's we need to discuss between now and the end of August," Guelfi said. "We might not have gone there, but that's someplace we have to go now."

The district said a poor construction market at the time they went out to bid was partially to blame for the lack of results.

"I think it's unfortunate that the climate we ran into at that time created a very restrictive bid market," said Lockyer. "That's part of the reason [we rejected the bids] - insufficient competition."

The other reason was one originally thought to be beneficial. Prior to going out to bid, the district decided that it would open up with three bid options - bidding on just Ocean Park, just Long Beach, or both schools. It was thought this would net them the lowest possible bid one way or the other.

"We think the bid form was a little complicated," said Lockyer Thursday. "Letting the smaller firms bid on the separate buildings, that limited the field of the larger companies that would bid on both."

Guelfi said the board had the district's construction team ask some of the larger construction firms that had shown interest in the projects why they didn't make a bid. He said many gave word that they were afraid they would be under-bid by a smaller contractor bidding on just one building, so they didn't even try. Because of this, the district has decided when they go back out to bid they will only be open to firms bidding on both schools.

Notification issue

The board decided all of this at a special school board meeting last Wednesday night. All board members were on-hand except for Kim Patten, who was out of town, and voted unanimously in favor of the rejection. No members of the public were in attendance.

Washington state law states that when a public organization, like a school board, holds a special meeting, it must at least notify all board members and the media prior to it taking place. The OBSD also has a policy of putting up public notice in at least the area post offices 24-hours prior to any meeting.

A check of the post office in Ilwaco Thursday morning found no such notice, whereas at the Ocean Park post office the only notice on their bulletin board was for the regular school board meeting held the week before. The district office said Thursday that it put up notices at each post office and notified the Chinook Observer Tuesday afternoon. The Chinook Observer, however, has no record of receiving such notice either and therefore was no on hand for the meeting.

This comes just two months after a confrontation with a group of Ocean Park community members at the May 10 school board meeting, in which it was noted by one person that they never knew when the school board was having its meetings.

To this Guelfi replied that the district always puts up notices of meeting a day prior to said meeting. When told Thursday that these notices were not made openly available prior to this important meeting, Guelfi said, "If it didn't happen, I'm gonna find out why and make it happen."

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