For Rose Arbor Project, Officials Get Choosier About Contractors

The city of San Marino plans to use the reconstruction of the Rose Arbor in Lacy Park to test whether accepting bids from only “prequalified” contractors could be viable for future municipal projects.
Prequalified contractors are those who have demonstrated, through a state-compiled questionnaire, that they have a track record of being fiscally responsible in their projects and the “ability to responsibly manage or administer a contract,” according to Parks and Public Works Director Michael Throne. The completed questionnaire is reviewed by the entity seeking bids — San Marino, for instance.
“Some of the larger agencies use it for very massive projects that are very complex, and they want to make sure they’re going to be receiving low bids from responsible contractors,” Throne told the Public Safety Commission at its October meeting. “That’s the flip side of the coin, is you might have a lot of money but if you really don’t have the skills to manage a project to completion, if you manage to mess up a project enough that you’ve been terminated from a contract, those are signs of not being responsible when managing a project.”
When projects are put out to bid, they are normally awarded to the lowest “responsive” bidder, meaning one who has simply filled out the requisite information within the period of time. Although the state created the prequalification system around 20 years ago, Throne explained, San Marino has never used it for projects.
Although using a prequalified contractor would likely yield a more effectively completed project, there are tradeoffs in artificially narrowing supply, chiefly that costs tend to increase.
“Contractors generally have a hard time filling a bid schedule, let alone filling out a 16-page questionnaire asking them questions about how they run their business,” Throne told the commission. “So you do run the risk of prequalifying no one.”
That being said, Throne added that for the Rose Arbor — the demolition of which in 2017 earned the continuing ire of several residents, including now-Vice Mayor Gretchen Shepherd Romey — he felt it was “important and sensitive enough” to try prequalified contractors out.
“It’s a very simple ‘cut the ends off timber’ kind of a project you think would be very difficult to mess up,” he added. “However, you could!’
Meanwhile, Throne pointed out that work continues on another Lacy Park project — the new restrooms — months after its scheduled completion date, in April, because he felt it wasn’t managed as well as it should have been.
“At the end of the day, because of the tardiness of the contractor, they owe us money,” he said. “The project’s actually getting less expensive for us every month, which I’m sure at the end of the day probably will become closer to what the council ideally wanted the project to cost.”

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