Mehlville fire board begins negotiations with firm to build new firehouse

Fire protection district receives 14 bids for construction of new No. 2 firehouse

By BURKE WASSON

The Mehlville Fire Protection District Board of Directors voted 3-0 last week to begin contract negotiations with United Construction to build a new No. 2 firehouse at the corner of Telegraph Road and Whitshire Drive.

Greg Garner of Archimages, which was hired by the district as an architectural and engineering consultant, said he believes that ground will be broken in the next two months and that the project then would take six to seven months to complete. District officials estimate that the new firehouse will be enclosed with a roof during the fall.

United Construction is expected this week to present a contract for the board to review.

Of 14 base bids submitted for constructing the new firehouse, the two lowest options were $1,186,715.70 from Schneider Construction of O’Fallon and $1,190,000 from United Construction of St. Louis.

But Garner recommended United Construction based on its experience and because Schneider Construction did not properly fill out the application. While United Construction provided an additional estimate of $56,000 to construct new traffic signalization near the firehouse, Schneider included that cost in its base bid, but did not break it out.

“We also went through some other analysis regarding the bids,” Garner said. “Not only of the cost ranking, but also the alternates with the traffic signalization and their unit prices for the soils and rock potential of the site and their construction time frames. Based on the ranking of cost and the alternates and the unit costs, we went … to the low three contractors — Schneider, United Construction and J.E. Foster (Building Company) — and asked for some additional information and any qualifications that were or were not appearing on the bid forms and asked them to submit a general contractor’s qualification statement, which basically goes through their experience and their references and asks some questions regarding their company framework.

“… Based on the numbers, our low contractor, Schneider Construction, at the public bid opening did not include a separate price under alternate one for traffic signalization nor did they include unit costs for unsatisfactory soils or rippable rock, which was clearly stated in our bid form. We did contact Schneider Construction directly after the meeting and asked them why they did not give that information.

“We were told that the signalization number was included in their base bid. That’s what we were told. We asked for that value broken out and to also include unsatisfactory soil and rippable rock. My recommendation to the board is that we not consider that group. The bid forms specifically break out different areas for comparison. We’re not able to do that at this point. And after the bids are open, we think that’s grounds for not considering that bid. And so we went to United Construction. And based on all the criteria, they were the most qualified of the remaining two and they had the lowest dollar value across the board. They were very close in calendar days … I think the district has direct experience with them with House No. 5. We have direct experience with them at the Clayton firehouse.”

Bids for the new firehouse were opened March 27.

Before bids were collected, board members already agreed that the maximum cost of the new firehouse will be roughly $1.792 million — excluding the cost of the land. As originally estimated, the cost of the one-story energy-efficient building with 6,554 square feet of space will be roughly $1.42 million. Additional costs, including architectural and engineering fees, utility relocations, landscaping and furniture, fixtures and equipment, could total nearly $372,000.

The district’s existing No. 2 firehouse, built in the 1950s in the 5600 block of Telegraph Road, is deteriorating and needs to be replaced, according to district officials.

The Board of Directors last year purchased the property for the new firehouse at the northeast corner of Telegraph Road and Whitshire Drive from Darrel D. “Dean” Climer of Oakville for $600,000. The existing No. 2 firehouse will remain open during construction of the new fire station, and once the new firehouse is completed, the Board of Directors plans to sell the old fire station and land.

Archimages was one of eight firms responding to the district’s request for proposals for architectural and engineering services to design the new firehouse, and the board voted unanimously last year to pay the firm a lump-sum fee of $96,000 for its services.

After weighing the bids, Garner concluded that United Construction was the lowest bidder with its level of experience and recommended that firm to the board.

“Our recommendation to the board as it stands now is to go into negotiations to contract with United Construction,” he said. “They’re the low contractor with their experience level. And their cost and their construction schedule, we think, is the best option out of a very competitive field.

“The district ought to be very pleased with the response they got. And the closeness of the bids shows that everybody was seeing the same thing on the plans. All contractors had questions, and it was a good response from the industry. It gives you a lot to choose from. I think it’s a hard decision to make. But United is our recommendation …

“Whenever we’re asked to evaluate a situation like this, obviously the dollar is one of the top priorities. But in all these cases, my professional opinion is they are so close, you have to go to other criteria. And one from our standpoint is just like you chose Archimages based on experience. We do think it’s in your best interest to have this contractor build this type of building. Not to mean that somebody else can’t learn on it, but we’re looking out for your best interests. And we think that would become an issue for us if we had to go to that level.”

Garner also noted that with the cost of signalization taken out of Schneider’s base bid, United’s bid is the best value because the company had the lowest cost per cubic yard.

“Their (Schneider’s) qualification pointed out a few ambulance districts that they’re currently working on at about half the budget of this,” Garner said. “An ambulance district, while it is similar, this is more complex and it’s a different-scale project than what we have. So even based on the experience level, I think United Construction is more qualified for the project. And again, taking the signalization out, which I think we had to be fair, there is only a few thousand dollars difference between their base bids.

“The cost of cubic yards, we couldn’t even evaluate because we didn’t have that information.”

“Did they give you one when you contacted them?” board Chairman Aaron Hilmer asked.

“They did and they were higher than United Construction,” Garner said.