Bids on jail project could decide whether plaintiffs challenge commission's construction manager pick

Group in lawsuit to decide whether to challenge board's manager pick

Money will determine the next move of the most recent plaintiffs who successfully sued Augusta over its purchasing practices.


On behalf of John Z. Speer Jr. and the Augusta-Richmond County Property Owners Assoc­iation, attorney Jack Long said a decision hasn’t been made yet to challenge the commission’s vote Tuesday to award R.W. Allen LLC the contract to serve as “construction manager at-risk” for the second phase of the expansion at the Charles B. Webster Detention Center.

Long said his clients wanted to determine which company proposed the lowest price for the jail project. If it were Allen, they most likely will not seek immediate legal action, Long said.

The commissioners voted 8-1 to award the contract in spite of a ruling by Superior Court Chief Judge J. Carlisle Overstreet that the method used to select construction manager at-risk to oversee the municipal building renovations – the same method used to select R.W. Allen for the jail project – violates city and state purchasing laws.

On Sept. 23, Overstreet granted a restraining order to keep the city from awarding a contract for the Municipal Building project. Overstreet found the city’s method is illegal because it ignored the law requiring competitive bids for all goods and services for public construction jobs valued more than $100,000.

Long said an amendment presented to commissioners Tuesday, which requires the construction manager at-risk to obtain competitive bids for all subcontractors’ goods and services, only goes half way to complying with the law.

The city still used subjective criteria, not objective reasoning, to select the construction manager at-risk, he said.

The city has been hiring companies to serve as a construction manager at-risk for major projects since 2005, about one year after hiring Heery International to oversee all of the special-purpose, local option sales tax projects. So far, taxpayers have paid more than $7 million to Heery.

When the judicial center’s building committee proposed hiring a construction manger at-risk in 2007 and 2008, Commissioners Marion Williams and Alvin Mason questioned why the job wasn’t put out as a regular competitive bid.

City Administrator Fred Russell recommended the proposal because he said it would speed the project and make it easier to control costs.

According to the American Institute of Architects, the construction-manager-at-risk system allows the client to hire a manager to begin working with the architect during the design phase. Once the design is complete or nearly complete, the manager gives the client a guaranteed maximum price of the project.

Cost has had little to do with how a construction manager at-risk has been hired in Augusta, according to city documents. For the municipal building remodeling job, price accounted for only 15 points of a possible score of 100 by the selection committee.

In April 2008, Jane Howington, the president of Augusta Library Board of Trustees, asked the commissioners to cut through the layers of construction management over the new downtown library.

Howington noted that Heery would charge $1.3 million to oversee the project that the architects and the construction manager at-risk were also overseeing.

When the issue of extending Heery’s contract came up later at the same meeting, Commissioner Joe Bowles asked: “If we approve the Judicial Center to go under a construction manager at-risk, why do we need another construction manager working on this at $1.4 million?”

Russell responded that “(Heery) represents me in all these meetings basically as we deal with the other construction mangers.

“They serve as our eyes and ears to make sure that we get the best bang for our buck in each of the projects we’re doing.”

Commissioners approved extending Heery’s contract in 2008 and again in 2010.

Phase I of expansion complete at Charles B. Webster Detention Center
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Judge asked to again halt Augusta building project over illegal purchasing practices