Thursday, November 11, 2010  05:40 AM 


The Columbus Dispatch

Construction bids at the state schools for the deaf and blind came in 22 percent below bids that were rejected this summer, and one group says it’s because workers are no longer required to be union.

The lower bids for dormitories come after design changes and a less-competitive construction environment, which drove up the state’s cost estimate 10 percent, an official said.

The Ohio School Facilities Commission solicited bids in July to build new dormitories at the Ohio State School for the Deaf and the Ohio State School for the Blind, but contractors’ proposals came in 46 percent over projections.

Nonunion construction companies said a “project labor agreement” that mandated union labor caused the overruns. The agreement had been ordered by commission Executive Director Richard Murray, a former union official who was the focus of a critical inspector general’s report this summer for his dealings promoting unions.

“I think it was a good demonstration that the PLA was a cost inflator,” said Bryan Williams, a lobbyist with the nonunion Associated Builders and Contractors of Ohio.

Pasquale “Pat” Manzi, executive secretary-treasurer of the Columbus/Central Ohio Building and Construction Trades Council, said it’s difficult to say why the bids, which were opened recently, are lower. He noted that some subcontract bids were cheaper when the labor agreement was in place.

“This is just the voodoo of construction,” Manzi said. “Construction is kind of a strange world.”

The overall $28.2 million project would revamp the campuses, which sit side by side on a large, wooded lot in Beechwold. The original bids came back totaling $39.6million, or 40 percent over budget.

That package included the residential buildings at an expected cost of $6.1 million, but the bids came back as high as $8.9 million, 46 percent over the estimate, said Robert Grinch, the commission’s senior project administrator in charge of the schools’ reconstruction.

Because of design changes to comply with building codes and an increase in average construction costs since early summer, the new estimate for the residential construction rose to $6.7million. With the PLA off and nonunion companies bidding, the bids came in at just under $7 million. The project can move forward because it is within 10 percent of the estimate, Grinch said.

Contractors were given an extra 65 days to complete the project, Grinch said. Manzi had said that a tight deadline might have caused companies to increase their bids in the summer.

Commission spokesman Rick Savors couldn’t immediately say when the bids for the rest of the project, which includes academic, office and food-service buildings, would be let nor whether they would retain a labor agreement. The agreement would force nonunion companies that win bids to either unionize their work forces or hire union workers instead of their own employees.

“Before, companies that were not signatory to a union, if they bid on it, they wouldn’t be able to use their own employees,” said Mary Tebeau, president of the central Ohio chapter of the Associated Builders and Contractors.

Only two companies bid this summer for the residential project’s general trades contract, the “bricks and mortar” work that accounts for about 60 percent of the total cost. The lowest bid of those two was 44 percent over the estimated cost.

Without the PLA, 12 companies bid for the general trades work, and the apparent winner is about 20 percent under the estimate.

Of the other contracts for windows, the fire-protection system, plumbing, heating and air conditioning, and electrical systems, only the window work received fewer bids the second time around, according to commission bid records. There was one bid for that work instead of two.

The electrical contract had nine bidders the second time instead of three, but the costs came in 10 percent higher than under the labor agreement.

“This is all voodoo,” Manzi said. “Tell me, what’s going on here? I can’t decipher this.”