Housing tender process questioned

The Cayman Contractors Association has taken issue with the tendering process for the new Affordable Housing Initiative apartments, saying prospective bidders do not have nearly enough time to prepare proper bids.

On 11 March, advertisements were placed in local newspapers by the National Housing & Community Development Trust seeking bids and proposals for the designing, building and commission of a three-storey, 72-apartment complex on the Affordable Housing site near Eastern Avenue

The advertisement said bids are to be submitted no later than 1 April 2005, leaving only three weeks to prepare a bid.

‘Generally speaking, you would have at least three months to submit a design-and-build bid,’ said Ian Pairaudeau, president of the Contractors Association.

Mr. Pairaudeau said the established procedures of The Society of Contractors, Architects, Surveyors and Engineers (CASE) call for a minimum bidding period of four to six weeks on a building contract.

‘And that’s without design,’ he said. ‘It’s at least double with design.’

Past president and current member of the Contractors Association Gilles Langlois not only thinks the bidding period to be too short, but finds the five-page prospectus on the project inadequate.

The prospectus is available from the NHCDT for a deposit of $50, refundable on the submission of a valid bid.

‘It lacks business maturity,’ said Mr. Langlois, noting that prospectuses are normally much more detailed, particularly on a site that has already been developed.

‘Normally, with this type of prospectus you would get things like As-Built drawings, a soil investigation that would include test bores for ground conditions and an engineering report on the existing concrete slabs to see if they could be incorporated into the new design,’ Mr. Langlois said.

Other basic information missing from the prospectus is what the lifespan of the building should be, Mr. Langlois noted.

Putting together a design and build bid that meets the cost criteria for affordable housing is a ‘challenging job,’ Mr. Langlois said.

‘You have to properly plan beforehand how to construct and how to develop a project that is also going to make money,’ he said.

Mr. Langlois disagreed with statements made by the Minister of Community Services Frank McField recently concerning there being no interest from local contractors in building the low-cost homes.

He also took exception to statements Mr. McField made to the Caymanian Compass last week about the homes constructed by his company, CI Precast.

Mr. McField had questioned remarks made by the Auditor General in his critical report on the Affordable Housing Initiative which suggested that CI Precast could have lowered its potential bidding price had it known it could make the walls in the project less than six inches wide.

‘I think this shows the Auditor General knows absolutely nothing about construction,’ Mr. McField said at the time, suggesting if CI Precast’s walls were any thinner they could not hold the steel framing and would stick out of the sides of the walls.

‘It is well known within the pre-stressed building industry that walls can be poured to as little as two inches,’ said Mr. Langlois.

Besides offering too little time in the bidding process, Mr. Langlois questioned the short time allocated for the award of the contract.

The prospectus says the ‘selection of the successful bidder (if any) will be made within seven days of the receipt deadline of 1 April 2005 for submissions…’

Mr. Langlois explained that multiple design-and-build bids would create a complex comparison exercise for those choosing the bid.

‘You can’t do that in seven days,’ he said. ‘It would take at least three or four weeks.

‘This whole farcical tendering procedure seems to be designed to discourage any real interest or bid on the project. (The Contractors Association) have to wonder why.’

A local architect agreed more time should be allowed for the bidding process, especially in the post-Ivan environment where architects, engineers and others who would have to be consulted for the bid are extremely busy.

‘The timescale quoted is nonsense,’ he said, adding that normally a pre-qualification exercise would be conducted prior to the formal bidding process.

‘Once you get the developers pre-qualified, you would give them a performance specification and brief that would be quite specific in detail,’ he said.

Contacted in London on a business trip, Andrew Gibb, a consultant project manager for the apartment development said the NHCDT was only looking for ‘expressions of interest’ at this time.

The newspaper advertisements and bid prospectus, however, specifically call for ‘bids’ or ‘bid proposals.’

‘I apologise if the wording is ambiguous,’ Mr. Gibb said.

Mr. Gibb said there was a real need for housing currently and that there were more than 600 people on the waiting list the NHCDT.

‘We’re trying to get housing out,’ he said. ‘We have to hurry it along a little. If there is interest (from local contractors) maybe we could spin (the bidding process) out another four weeks.’

Mr. Gibb indicated the cost parameters of the project would probably preclude traditional building methods.

‘We believe it will have to be some sort of system construction,’ he said, referring to pre-fabricated housing systems.

‘We’re trying to tap into the capabilities of local contractors to come back to us with a system proposal,’ he said. ‘We need to hustle, so let’s see what’s out there.’

Mr. Gibb said he found it ‘curious’ that it took the Contractors Association so long to take issue with the time guidelines.

‘We’ve heard nothing for a whole week,’ he said. ‘The National Housing Trust told me that only two, maybe three, prospectuses had been picked up.’

Besides CI Precast, it has been learned that C & R Building and Renovation Company has collected a prospectus.

Minister McField was angered by the Contractors Association’s complaint.

‘Should I have to hold up waiting on them?’ he asked.

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