Friday, May 27, 2011

Another Fat Contract for Out of Town Builders

(This post has been updated.)

It is looking like another fat chunk of Roanoke-intended federal stimulus money--$10.6 million for the New Horizon facility--will go to an out of town contractor. This problem is becoming biblical as out of town builders are chosen to do Roanoke's high-profile work.

Most prominent recently was the re-design of the City Market Building ($66 million) which went to an out-of-state firm. The restructuring of the Poff Federal Building went out of state (another $60 million) and even the selection of artists whose works will hang in the City Market Building did not include a local--or even state--artist.

New Horizons' team picked Shockey's, a Winchester general contractor, which will be paired with the Richmond architectural firm of Baskerville to complete the design-build on a facility that will offer health care to poor people. The building will be constructed on Melrose Avenue on an acre and a half. It will be close to 35,000 square feet on two floors and will provide a range of health services.

New Horizons has been operating out of a LewisGale-owned medical facility at Valley View Mall for several years. It does outstanding work in its field, but has no experience in constructing buildings, which is why it went to the city for help in selecting teams to do the work, according to a contractor with knowledge of the process.

At the pre-proposal hearing April 7, "everybody in town who could do a $10 million project was there," said the source, who did not want to be identified because he is in a sensitive position for this type of project. "Everybody was scrambling to team up" to make a bid for the project.

The builder said, "I try hard not to cry over [spilled] milk, but this happens time and time again with our city and local boards and it has a dramatic affect on dollars that flow right out of our local economy and up the Interstate where all the smart people live. Why do our city staffers not know this? It seems so basic."

Roanoke City engineer Phil Schirmer, who was part of the team that made the selection for the City Market Building, appears to have played a significant role in this process, according to people taking part in the bidding process.

Dick Robers, chairman of the board of New Horizons (and an old friend and colleague of mine), answered an e-mail from me with this:

“We had about 17 responses to our RFP [request for proposal] and it was recommended that we interview six of the teams that responded, some local and some from out of town. The team that was selected had the best experience in designing and building the type clinic we need to build. This team of Baskerville (architects) has designers who specifically deal in the design medical clinics and they have worked as a team with Shockey (contractor) on a number of these type design/build projects (medical clinics). This team also agreed to use local subcontractors when building the clinic.

“All of those on the selection team would have preferred to use local architects and contractors but in the end we felt it best to use the team with the most experience in building this type project.”

Robert Carpenter is New Horizons’ owner-representative for the building of the clinic. Says Robers, “He is with the company [MBP of Fairfax] that we hired for the purpose of working with the design/build team on a day to day basis.”

Giving local firms preference in local projects is not supposed to happen, but "try to get a job in Lynchburg," said the source. "It happens all over the place. People protect their own [contractors and design people] and their own economies. We simply can't understand why these contracts go to out of town firms when our own companies are clearly qualified."

A number of local building companies have had to lay off workers in recent months because of the slow economy and projects like this $10 million jewel don't come along often.

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