School tenders differ vastly

The two tenders received to build the new John Gray High School differed by almost CI$25 million.

Speaking at the Cabinet press briefing last week, Education Minister Alden McLaughlin said the winning bidder – Tom Jones International – originally bid $64 million and the only other bidder – McAlpine Ltd. bid CI$91 million.

The two companies were also the only two bidders on the Clifton Hunter High School in Frank Sound. Tom Jones International was awarded the contracts on both schools.

‘McAlpine came in, quite frankly, out of the ballpark on John Gray and was significantly higher on Clifton Hunter,’ Mr. McLaughlin said.

However, McAlpine Managing Director Ian Pairadeau said his company’s tender bid on John Gray was actually CI$88.7 million and that after value engineering savings of more than $13 million, it stood at CI$75.5.

But even that figure is CI$16.6 million higher than the final price the Ministry of Education negotiated with Tom Jones International.

The contracts awarded to Tom Jones were fixed sum contracts for CI$58.9 million with respect to John Gray and CI$56.7 million with respect to Clifton Hunter. Mr. Pairadeau said McAlpine’s original bid of Clifton Hunter was CI$65.37 million, but after value engineering, the final sum was CI$56.63 million.

Mr. McLaughlin said there was no escalation clause in the contract with Tom Jones to cover the possibilities of rising costs of materials.

‘[Escalation clauses] were proposed, but firmly rejected.’

Mr. McLaughlin said the quality of the schools was not reduced either.

‘The fundamentals of the school designs were not something I was not prepared to compromise on,’ he said.

In addition, Mr. McLaughlin said the hurricane shelter aspects of the schools – which he said added between $25 million and $30 million to the combined costs of the three schools – was not compromised, and neither were the sports facilities.

‘Since the tenders came in, we have been engaged in what could only be described as a battle in order to get the costs to a level where government could afford them,’ Mr. McLaughlin said.

Leader of Government Business Kurt Tibbetts said the protracted period of negotiations on the schools caused a delay in the start of construction. The schools are now schedule to be ready for the 2010/11 school year. In March 2006, Mr. McLaughlin told the Legislative Assembly both high schools, as well as the Beulah Smith High School in West Bay, were anticipated to be ready for the 2008/09 school year.

Mr. Tibbetts spoke about the recent lack of construction bidders on government projects. The Government Office Accommodation Project initially had three bidders, but two dropped out, forcing a long negotiated contract period with the only remaining bidder, McAlpine.

‘Most of the larger contractors have been extremely busy,’ Mr. Tibbetts said, adding that the complexity of the projects also plays a factor in the lack of bidders.

Mr. Tibbetts said only McAlpine, Arch & Godfrey, Hadsphaltic and Tom Jones International have the capability of building the large government projects without bringing in another company from overseas or combining resources with another firm.

With three new high schools, a new courthouse, a new emergency response centre in Bodden Town and a new emergency operations centre for Hazard Management planned over the next few years, Mr. Tibbetts said finding the people to build the projects was something Cabinet was very conscious about.

With regard to the John Gray and Clifton Hunter high schools, one of the three eligibility criteria for interested firms was that they ‘have successfully completed similar projects in the last five year’. Neither of the bidders – at least the local entities – met the criteria.