LISBON — The job of building a new gym for Lisbon High School will go to the lowest bidder, the Lisbon School Committee decided Monday.
The committee voted 5-0 to award the contract to general contractor Landry/French, as ordered by Maine Superior Court Justice Nancy Mills.
On Dec. 1, Mills issued a restraining order barring the Lisbon School Department from awarding the contract to Ledgewood Construction. No work could happen unless done by the Scarborough-based Landry/French, the court ordered.
Mills ruled that the School Committee violated state law by awarding the $5 million construction project to the second-lowest bidder rather than the lowest bidder, Landry/French Construction.
Committee members said Monday that while they weren’t against appealing the court’s decision, it was time to build.
“We’ve waited for so long, I don’t want to wait anymore,” School Committee Chairwoman Traci Austin said. “I don’t agree with the court decision. But it is what it is. I would rather move forward and get this project completed for the citizens of Lisbon and make it the best it can be.”
“I agree with you, Traci,” committee member Pete Reed said.
Superintendent Richard Green said an appeals process could delay construction for up to five months. “And then we could lose,” Reed said. “In the meantime, we’re paying lawyers’ fees and costs we don’t need, and we still wouldn’t have a gym,” Reed said. “Let’s get it built.”
Committee member Gina Mason said her husband is a contractor. When contractors bid, “you do it with good faith and you give the low bid and you give quality. We had a meeting before this meeting. Each and every one of us said the School Department is about the kids. Waiting longer is going to put it off for the kids. We need to move on.”
The committee voted to only award the base contract to Landry/French to build the gym, but not include other alternatives, or additional parts of the gym.
Superintendent Green recommended that items such as smoke curtains, gym equipment, HVAC controls and a traffic pattern outside the school be pulled out of the project and put out to bid again.
That, Green said, would allow the School Department to get better prices.
The committee supported that recommendation.
Committee members discussed how the court ruling set precedent in the world of Maine school construction.
Before the vote, committee member George Caron asked if the court threw “our law out; we said we don’t have to pick the lowest bidder?”
“Correct,” Green said. The court defined competitive bidding as having to accept the lowest, qualified bid, he said.
If they did not appeal, “if another thing comes up, we’ll be stuck with the low bid,” Caron said.
“It definitely set precedent,” Green agreed.
“Do we want to do that? This will affect the whole state,” Caron said.
“It already has,” Austin said, adding the committee had to decide to accept the court ruling or appeal.
In June, Lisbon voters approved spending local money to build a gym to replace one that is inadequate and too small.
Controversy started Oct. 29, when the School Committee awarded the $5 million job to Ledgewood of South Portland, which bid the project between $15,300 to $77,500 higher than Landry/French.
Landry/French went to court asking for an injunction to not allow any construction. During the Nov. 26 court hearing, Landry/French lawyer A. Robert Ruesch argued that all bidders had to qualify, and state law said the job must go to the lowest, qualified bidder.
Giving the contract to the second-lowest bidder would be “a step back from fair, open competition” and make companies reluctant to step into the bidding process, Ruesch said in court. “What we have here is favoritism,” he said.
Lisbon School Department lawyer Jerry Crouter argued that state law requires a bidding process, which was done, but it does not require the lowest bid to be accepted. Lisbon school officials exercised their best judgment favoring Ledgewood for its “on-time” and “on-budget record,” Crouter said.
Company co-owner Kevin French said it was important he defend the bidding process in a case watched statewide.
If he did not challenge the School Committee’s decision of not giving the job to the lowest qualified bidder, it would mean “on any public job, you can do whatever you want.”