After Debate, Commissioners Approve $766k HVAC Project
January 5, 2023 | View PDF
A proposed expenditure of $766,000 to renovate the Cheyenne County courthouse complex's heating and air conditioning systems has raised questions about the cost of the project, the bidding process and ultimately if the taxpayers of Cheyenne County are getting the most value for their money when it comes to major projects undertaken by the county.
After the last Commissioner's meeting on December 19 of last year, it was learned that there was only one bidder for the HVAC project, Johnson Controls, and they had submitted a proposal to replace two heating units and one air conditioning unit plus the electronic controls for the systems. Johnson Controls, based out of Cheyenne, WY, has been a long-standing provider of HVAC systems and equipment and repair issued for the county.
After the December 19 meeting, many questions were raised by public attendees of the meeting concerning the bidding process and overall cost of the project. David Jansen of Bring Back Sidney and Eric Pool took time prior to Tuesday's Commissioners meeting to gather more information about the bidding process, who was contacted, and the costs associated with the project. Jansen and Pool addressed the Commissioners Tuesday morning, noting concerns with the way the bid was advertised and the lack of local HVAC companies involved. A representative of Trane Heating and Air Conditioning, a global provider of HVAC solutions and project management, appeared via Zoom conference and noted that although they did receive a request for a bid, they decided not to offer a bid for the project due to numerous factors. Those factors included the way the company was structured did not allow an efficient way of organizing the project from a product versus installation standpoint, and that many of the people who would be involved in their organization were new and were unable to communicate the project's needs with each other in a short time frame. The representative noted that the bid from Johnson Controls did not seem to be unusual in scope or cost.
Jansen and Pool went into detail with the commissioners about how they had spoken with local HVAC contractors who knew nothing of the project until after the bidding process was complete, and noted that some thought the costs did not add up based on the products and square footage required to heat and cool.
Jansen said, “We're in no rush here, let's do the best job for the people”.
Pool, who has years of experience in project management in building and retail facilities, noted the experts he spoke with about the project all said the costs seemed very high compared to the standard formula that would be used in determining costs for a project of this nature. Pool was concerned about the lack of a breakdown by line item, no mention of structural changes necessary to accommodate the new equipment, or a breakdown of material costs versus labor costs. Johnson Controls had three representatives at the meeting, to go over the bid and answer questions.
Pool noted, “If you have to bring in three people to defend a bid, well then there's a problem with the bid.”
The representatives from Johnson Controls then explained the bid, what was included in the overall price, and the scope of the work that would be done.
Mitch Wood, Service Manager for Johnson Controls started by saying, “We're not here to defend our bid, but to explain it. With two other representatives of Johnson Controls, the group explained the scope of the project did not lend itself to formulas that other HVAC companies might use in determining prices. Wood went into detail about the age of the existing equipment and the costs involved to the county if they failed, and how the equipment they were offering is far more efficient and modern, and would save significant amounts of money in utility bills for the complex. It was noted that the reason there was not an itemized breakdown of all the costs involved, such as labor prices, is because many of these costs are proprietary, and the company would be hurt by making certain costs public. Also, the bid was filled out to the specifications of the bid forms, which did not require certain details to be laid out. The group addressed the concerns about rental equipment being needed and structural changes required for the project, and assured the commissioners that they had done their research and have planned for these issues and other contingencies which may arise.
There also members of the public voicing their concerns like Marguerite Pool, who noted that it is very difficult to find out details of bids and projects like this on the County's website. Often, by the time information is disseminated, decisions have been already made. The commissioners agreed that information should be more transparent, and noted that upgrades to the website were being implemented.
After much discussion with meeting participants, commissioner Randall Miller noted that seven different companies had been contacted and declined to bid, the process was followed according to the guidelines and laws of the State of Nebraska, and that it would be unethical to re-bid the project after Johnson Controls had already submitted their bid in compliance with all applicable procedures and rules. Miller also noted that Sidney's location worked against it for having more bidders for the project, and also noted that they have had only one bidder for certain projects in the past due to the rural location of Sidney. Although many wanted to delay to approval of the bid, both Miller and commissioner Phillip Sanders noted that re-bidding would more than likely result in an increase of the overall cost, and delays that would interfere with the scheduled project. It is planned to have the cooling systems replaced during the colder months when they are not active, and the heating systems replaced in the summer months, when the heating systems are not active. Additionally, with supply chain disruptions world wide, there is another concern that delaying the project could result in unavailability of key parts and equipment necessary for the project. The commissioners unanimously voted to approve the bid with Johnson Controls and move forward with the project.
In other business, the commissioners approved Special Designated Liquor Licenses for Cheyenne County Chamber of Commerce annual banquet on January 28, and for the Pheasants Forever Banquet on March 3. Both events will be held at the Cheyenne County Fairgrounds.