13 firms apply to build Sebastian County aquatics park
Of the 13 companies that have applied for the construction manager at-risk position created to work with designers and subcontractors on the new Ben Geren Aquatics Center, officials from the city of Fort Smith and Sebastian County have interviewed five prospective construction managers.
Deputy City Administrator Jeff Dingman said deciding who to interview was not an easy task.
"We have a hard time narrowing them down. They were all good contractors, qualified contractors."
Of all of the companies that applied, County Judge David Hudson said his top priority was seeking a company that had experience with the type of project the city and county would be embarking upon.
"The amount of experience the different companies had varied from company to company, so that's one of the things that everybody who was reviewing that was looking at it was what type of specific background do they bring to the project,” Hudson explained.
Individuals conducting the interviews included Fort Smith Parks and Recreation Director Mike Alsup, Dingman, Fort Smith City Administrator Ray Gosack, Hudson, Andy Smith of Larkin Aquatics, According to Assistant County Administrator Scott Stubblefield, and Sebastian County Parks Administrator Shannon Toland. Kansas City, Mo.-based Larkin Aquatics is the lead designer on the project.
"It's a collaborative project, so it will be a collaborative decision," Hudson said.
One contractor eliminated early in the process was Van Horn Construction of Russellville. Stubblefield said the company did not follow the county's instructions for consideration, with the firm not submitting its documents electronically, as requested.
Another company that applied for consideration was Beshears Construction, the only company of the 13 to have applied for the position that had previously completed projects for the county since 2003.
According to information obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request, Beshears has completed four Sebastian County projects totaling $18.842 million in the last 10 years, which accounts for 74.45% of the $25.309 million in projects undertaken by the county in the last decade.
Asked whether Beshears' previous experience working on county projects would give the company an advantage in the selection process, Hudson said the most important factor was a company's ability to do the job required, which will be to successfully take the Ben Geren Aquatics Center from a concept to a reality within the financial parameters.
"We looked at construction management experience and we also looked at experience with aquatics facilities. That's what was on everybody's mind as far as the leading indicators on who we should interview,” Hudson said.
The companies that have received interviews include Flintco Constructive Solutions, Kinco Constructors, Nabholz Construction Services, Prosser Wilbert Construction and SSi Constructors.
"Those are the five that we've interviewed, at this point," Hudson added. "Their proposals were pretty well drawn, so it was a matter of allowing them the opportunity to go back over their experience and their qualifications."
The experience and qualifications may not matter if the construction manager approach is found unconstitutional. Sebastian County Quorum Court member Danny Aldridge voted against the construction manager process and has asked for an opinion from Arkansas Attorney General Dustin McDaniel. Aldridge’s request was sent through Sen. Jake Files, R-Fort Smith. Aldridge believes a construction manager process skirts laws that require open bidding for public projects. McDaniel has yet to issue an opinion on the request.
Using a construction manager at-risk, Hudson asserts, is still the best way to work within the cost constraints that both the city and county have, adding that to do separate designs showing what different dollar amounts could buy would run more than $60,000 versus putting that design money into the project and using a construction manager to work with the designers on ways to reduce costs.
He said sealed bids for subcontracting work would still be submitted for the project and opened in a public forum, such as one of the large courtrooms in the Sebastian County Courthouse.
Hudson and Dingman are confident a decision on a construction manager can be made in time for the Sebastian County Quorum Court and the Fort Smith Board of Directors to vote on a construction manager at-risk contract at their Aug. 20 meetings.
"That's the one that we're shooting for, our (the city's) second (Board of Directors) meeting in August," Dingman said.
And as for the planned opening date of Memorial Day 2015, Dingman said the likelihood is still good that the date will stick.
"The designer has indicated that they've started some work on the plans, but they don't want to get too far in the process before getting a manager on board to help with cost estimating," he said. "There's still a pretty good confidence level that we can have the design documents done before the end of the year and put the bid packages out, the sub-contractor bid packagers out, to give the the contractor a good 12 to 14 months to get it (built) and hopefully still open Memorial Day of 2015, but we'd like to have hold of that before (Memorial Day) for life guard training. That'd be ideal."