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Construction plans delayed

Published Oct. 9, 2005

Clerical errors, legal complexities, misunderstandings and even a court injunction knotted up two major school construction projects on Tuesday, forcing the School Board to delay action on both projects.

After detailed discussions, the board rejected all construction bids submitted for the new Citrus Springs middle school and delayed until next month any action on awarding a bid for the Lakeview School relocation.

The projects are two of the largest items on the district's construction schedule.

The middle school, slated for a 40-acre parcel the district has not yet purchased in Citrus Springs, was budgeted at $7-million. Bids received several weeks ago were in the $9-million to $10-million range instead.

Added to that, the low bidder on the project, Ajax Construction, withdrew its $9.308-million bid just hours after the bid opening, citing clerical errors.

Acting on comments by School Board Chairman David Watson, who said last week that the district might award Ajax the bid anyway or simply withhold the company's nearly $500,000 bid bond, Ajax filed for an injunction in circuit court an hour before the start of Tuesday's board meeting.

The injunction request became moot, however, once Ajax officials learned from School Board attorney Richard "Spike" Fitzpatrick before the meeting that no bid would be accepted Tuesday.

Fitzpatrick also advised the School Board that he didn't recommend withholding the bid bond and suggested that because the bids were above the budgeted amount, new bids should be sought and general services director Tom Williford should try to reduce the cost of the project.

The board agreed and Williford assured members that there still would be time to advertise the project again, accept and approve bids in July and be ready to open by the fall of 1994 as scheduled.

Budgetary constraints also played a role in the continuing saga of relocating Lakeview School.

Months ago the School Board was forced to scale down the project because costs far exceeded the budget.

Earlier this month, Williford told bidders that only their base bid would be considered in determining the low bidder if other proposed extras drove the costs over the budgeted amount.

Some contractors took that to mean that the base bid alone would determine who was low bidder.

On Tuesday, Williford recommended that the board accept contractor John G. Grubbs, son of longtime Citrus school builder John D. Grubbs, as the low bidder.

Extras could be added because the overall project, which came in at $1.4-million, did not exceed the amount budgeted for the relocation, Williford said.

Rocky Stacy of Ausley Construction Inc. of Ocala told the board that his firm had been the low bidder on the base price of the project even if not on all the extras. He said his firm should receive the contract because he was relying on what Williford had said about the base bid at the mandatory pre-bidding conference.

Williford also noted that a Grubbs representative had not been at that mandatory meeting but arrived just after most of the contractors had left.

While attorney Fitzpatrick said that the statements at the conference were confusing but not binding on the board, he did say he had a problem with the Grubbs representative arriving late.

The board decided to give Fitzpatrick more time to research the issue and voted to discuss the bids again at the July 8 special meeting on the budget.

Shortly after that decision and after the contractors had all left the room, Fitzpatrick received additional information from Williford that the apparent low bidder _ Grubbs _ didn't meet bid specifications because the firm was not properly bonded.

That would mean that the board might have to reject the Grubbs bid altogether and give the contract to the next lowest bidder, Caldwell Construction. But the board agreed to wait until the established July 8 discussion to take action.