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    Fire station's low bidder files lawsuit

    Oldsmar awarded the contract for building the new facility to the second-lowest bidder.

    By RICHARD DANIELSON

    © St. Petersburg Times, published May 25, 2001


    OLDSMAR -- The low bidder on the $1.3-million project to build the city's new fire station has sued the city over its decision to spend $18,300 more and go with the next-lowest bidder.

    City Council members voted May 15 to award the $1.343-million contract to Caladesi Construction Co. Two days later, Pilot Construction Technology of Safety Harbor sued the city in Pinellas-Pasco Circuit Court.

    Pilot Technology's suit contends that it was the low bidder when the 13 bids were opened May 1 and that city officials did not indicate then that anyone else would receive the contract.

    The suit alleges that Pilot Technology executives only discovered that their company was not going to get the bid by calling the project's architect on the day of the council meeting. The company quickly put together a protest challenging the awarding of the contract to Caladesi Construction, faxed it to the city and followed up in person at the council meeting.

    At that point, the company's suit contends, the city was obligated under Florida law to stop the process of soliciting or awarding bids until the protest was resolved. The suit asks a judge to order the city to stop until the company's bid protest goes through an administrative hearing.

    "We think if there's a hearing by a fair and neutral person, Pilot will win it," said the company's attorney, Jawdet I. Rubaii of Clearwater.

    But City Attorney Tom Trask said this week that Rubaii has misread state law.

    "He's mistaken," Trask said. The statute that Pilot Technology's lawsuit refers to "only deals with counties and state (agencies)," he said. "It does not deal with municipalities."

    A separate statute entirely governs how cities such as Oldsmar handle competitive bids for projects that cost more than $200,000, Trask said. Moreover, he said, that statute does not lay out a bid protest procedure. Instead, it says that anyone who wants to challenge a proposed bid must look to a particular city's policies and procedures and follow those, he said. In Oldsmar, Trask said, the city's code gives council members "wide latitude" in how to deal with such protests. With Pilot Technologies, council members gave the company's representative a "full opportunity" to make a case before they made their decision, Trask said.

    "There's no question that the city's in the right," he said.

    Rubaii disagreed, contending that the city made up new criteria for making its selection after the bids were opened and didn't give Pilot enough of a chance to prepare and deliver a response.

    "It isn't right," he said, "and I don't think that anybody who was being fair-minded about it would have done it the same way."

    The City Council's decision came after the city's architect for the project, John Cutler Kelly of the firm of FleischmanGarcia, recommended Caladesi over Pilot. In a May 10 letter to the city, Kelly said Caladesi's references were "extremely positive regarding the quality and timeliness of their work, as well as their overall honesty and integrity."

    Pilot's references were neither "definitively negative" nor "strongly positive," Kelly noted. He was concerned that another company run by Pilot president Abdi R. Boozar-Jomehri was involved in disputes with the Pinellas County School District over two projects at Clearwater High School and one at Perkins Elementary School in St. Petersburg.

    "The potential implications of these legal entanglements on Fire Station 54 warrant careful consideration by the city of Oldsmar," Kelly concluded.

    The city has no plans to delay the project because of the suit, Trask said. City officials plan to send Caladesi Construction a notice in the next week or so informing it that it has been awarded the contract, and the city then will begin preparing contract documents. Those documents will not come back to the City Council for further consideration, Trask said.

    A groundbreaking is tentatively scheduled for July 3, Fire Chief Scott McGuff said. From then, Caladesi Construction will have 270 days to complete the building to the point that the fire department can move in. It will have another 30 days to put the finishing touches on the building.

    At 11,432 square feet, the new fire station at 225 Pine Ave. N will be more than three times the size of the current fire station on State Street. McGuff said the old station, which was built in 1979, will probably be torn down once the new station is finished.

    -- Staff writer Ed Quioco contributed to this report. Richard Danielson can be reached at (727) 445-4194.

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