Contractor approved to ready temporary campus

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, December 19, 2012

By Richard Meek
Contributing Writer

RESERVE – The final phase of transitioning the old Leon Godchaux Junior High School campus into a temporary facility for East St. John High School has begun.

Last week, the St. John the Baptist Parish School Board accepted the low bid from Baton Rouge-based Charles Carter to finalize work on the temporary trailers that will house students as well as modify the existing kitchen to be able to prepare food to feed more than 1,000 students at one time.

Carter’s bid was $783,400, more than $100,000 less than the second low bid of $909,000 from Lincoln Builders of Baton Rouge. Although 13 contractors picked up bid packets and attended the mandatory bid meeting, records show only seven submitted bids.

Bids were opened Monday afternoon and a pre-construction meeting kicked off the work Tuesday afternoon.

Four bids exceeded $1 million, with BATTCO construction of Kenner being the highest at $1.366 million, according to bid tabulations. Todd Mann of CSRS, the firm overseeing the construction project, said the architect’s engineer estimate was $1.005 million.

“We’re disappointed in the bid spread but we do understand why, because of the nature of this project,” Mann said. “It’s a four-week project (substantial completion date is Jan. 7) and occurs during December and duck hunting season.

“With that in mind a lot of bidders have a high number in mind. In other words, if they give me this number I’ll be happy to do it.”

The $582,000 spread from highest to lowest was not lost on board members who are questioning Carter’s bid credibility and ability to perform the work. All construction must be completed no later than Jan. 14 when the current platoon system at the campus will end and all ESJ students will attend classes together for the first time since Hurricane Isaac devastated the area.

“Are you sure of the company finishing the job with (this) specific order?” board member Albert Burl III asked Mann.

“I encourage you to keep a very close eye on this bid because this is substantially below the average,” board member Russ Wise said.

Mann said the low bid also created some trepidation among CSRS officials but added those fears were allayed after spending more than three hours evaluating the bid.

“We are comfortable after conversations (with Carter officials) that they have everything,” he said. “I cannot explain why they were able to bid it so competitively, but we have no information to indicate the bid is not responsive at this time.”

“Again, our responsibility is evaluating public bids,” he added. “We have performed that responsibility. We are obviously concerned, and yet we have nothing to say we should not aware this bid to this bidder.”

The website of the Better Business Bureau gives Carter an A+ rating and indicates no complaints have been filed against the business in the past three years.

Records indicate the firm is 83 years old and has 10 employees.

Mann was also asked by board members if Carter would be using local subcontractors and vendors on the project or if a clause mandating parish subs be used was part of the contract.

Mann said CSRS encourages the use of local companies and workers but added such a clause is a violation of state law.

On another matter, Frank LaCourse updated the board on the status of FEMA reimbursement funds, saying the district has already received $4.4 million from the federal agency and another $2.7 million has been approved, and the money will be received “any day.”

CSRS has estimated total damage in the school system at $44 million, of which, LaCourse said, FEMA will pay 75 percent, with the school district paying the remainder of the tab, approximately $11 million.

He did deliver sobering news on the status of Lake Pontchartrain Elementary School, which was heavily damaged in Isaac. He said it appears the damage will not be substantial enough to warrant construction of a new school, so it appears the current structure will have to be rebuilt with FEMA funds.

LaCourse said he would likely be appearing before the board at its January meeting seeking approval for an architectural design of the remodeled facility. He did say FEMA will pay for elevating the existing structure, probably by at least three feet.