The Fort Smith Board of Directors voted 4-2 Tuesday to hire a firm based on experience rather than price to oversee construction of a multimillion-dollar aquatics center.
The water park is scheduled to open Memorial Day weekend 2015 at Ben Geren Regional Park. Its estimated $8 million cost is split between Fort Smith and Sebastian County.
The Sebastian County Quorum Court also approved the "construction manager at risk" method over traditional bidding Tuesday night.
"With this project, given the concerns about balancing the features in the facility with how much we’re willing to spend to construct the facility," City Administrator Ray Gosack said, "it seems like those concerns lend themselves more to using a ‘construction manager at risk’ method for delivering the aquatics center project for Sebastian County."
At-Large Directors Pam Weber and Philip Merry Jr. voted against using a construction manager.
"I have received lots of input from the public, pro and con, on this issue," Merry said. "I received lots of input and personal visits that I much appreciate from general contractors from in town and out of town. Having weighed both, I will be voting for the design, bid, build. I vote this way on the input I have gotten."
Gosack said a construction manager offers "more reliable cost estimates."
The construction manager will receive two negotiated fees, he added. The first is during the design phase; the second is during construction.
The selected construction manager will also be required to solicit open and competitive bids for all subcontract work.
Also Tuesday, Fort Smith directors approved a $783,000 contract with low bidder Southern Building Services Inc. of Fort Smith for renovations to the city’s 10 fire stations.
Renovations include new countertops, cabinetry in kitchens and offices, plumbing and bathroom fixtures.
Weber voted against the move based on "the past history we’ve had with this contractor," she said.
"I’m very concerned this is done in a timely manner," she added.
According to Fire Chief Mike Richards, the city and Southern Building Services are involved in litigation over an April 2007 contract for construction of six structures at Lake Shepherd Springs Recreational Area.
"Southern Building Services sued the city over that contract," Gosack said. "The city for the most part has prevailed in that litigation."
Gosack said he and Richards "felt like we did not have enough justification to reject the low bid on this project."
"The architect (MAHG Architecture) has done extensive investigation into the contractor’s ability to complete the project, and has checked references on other projects the contractor has done," Gosack said. "Although in the normal course of business, someone may not hire a contractor they previously had problems with, we’re a public agency dealing in an open and competitive environment for bidding projects.
"We have a low bidder here who the architect has confidence can complete the project."
Galen Hunter with MAHG Architecture said his company contacted previous SBS clients "to ensure ourselves they could meet the schedule that’s required and are competent to do the work."
"Our firm also has had past experience with them on typical renovation jobs, and we have been able to complete those successfully," Hunter said.
Although the contract was approved 5-1, At-Large Director Kevin Settle also expressed concerns.
"I want to make sure the 182-day timeline stays," he said. "If that thing gets behind, this board needs to know. Also, I don’t want any corners cut. I’m going to vote for this, but I am concerned like Director Weber."
In executive session, the board appointed Mac McGhee to the Fort Smith Airport Commission.
Alex Sanchez, Cecil Greene Jr. and Sister Judith Keith were appointed to the Western Arkansas Planning & Development District board of directors.