Final approval of a water systems project for Branson also included a desire by city officials to revisit the selection process for hiring contractors.
Aldermen voted 4-2 to approve the project on its final read, with aldermen Kevin McConnell and Rick Castillon voting against the measure.
Mike Ray, utilities director for Branson, said the project will extend the city’s water system to the unserved western limits of the city and improve water pressure to other nearby properties. According to Ray, the city will contract with Allgeier Martin and Associates, which will design the system components, provide scope of work, technical specifications and plan drawings to the city for inclusion in construction documents. Additionally, Allgeier Martin and Associates will assist in the bidding process.
According to Ray, the city has considered three main routing options for the new system with Routing Option A providing “the best overall benefit to the community.” The option involves extending water service from the Dewey Bald Water Tower, which is located on the southeast corner of Henning Conservation Area and would require approval from the Missouri Department of Conservation.
If approved by the Conservation Department, a report from the utility department indicates the water main would be extended westward across Henning within an existing utility easement occupied by White River Electric Cooperative. The main would then continue underneath the Henning visitor parking area and Missouri 76 to a new elevated water tower location.
“The project would remain within the cleared White River easement corridor to avoid damaging or removing trees within the Henning area,” the report reads.
McConnell said he had questions regarding the scoring system used to award the project to Allgeier Martin and Associates. Among McConnell’s questions included wanting more information on how weights are selected and if the system penalized firms for having no previous experience with the city.
“My question is, why are some of these more important than others when it’s the same descriptor – excellent, good and fair – and how do we prevent repeating the past in terms of making decisions if this is our best tool,” McConnell said.
According to Utilities Director Mike Ray, the selection criteria used by the city on this project included a sliding scale with a weighting system.
“There is a sliding scale on each category,” Ray said. “If you’re doing excellent, it’s not just excellent, it’s a sliding scale up and down.”
For the water systems project, the city used a scoring system of 11 criteria weighted in order of importance. According to an online staff report from the utilities department, criteria such as “quality of previous work for the city” and “indicated project understanding” were listed as “high importance,” while criteria such as “addressed contract support” and “detailed schedule” are listed as “medium importance.”
According to the scoring sheet provided by the utilities department, Allgeier Martin and Associates had one “fair” rating in detailed schedule, two “excellent” ratings in number and qualifications of staff and experience with water system design and a “good” rating in each other category. The second-place company, McClelland Consulting Engineers, received one “excellent” rating in experience with water system design and a “good rating” in every other category.
Additionally, according to Ray, the software used in the scoring system does not penalize firms without prior experience working with the city, but does give points based on quality of past work.
“It’s not supposed to reflect negatively on anyone who hasn’t worked for the city in the past,” Ray said. Allgeier Martin and Associates was one of three companies listed with no prior experience with the city.
Alderman Brian Clonts echoed McConnell’s request for more information on the way criteria are weighted.
“It was difficult to understand why the first contractor here had a ‘fair’ and had a higher score than the second contractor,” Clonts said.
City Administrator Stan Dobbins said an effort to review the bidding process has been underway, and he is confident with the decision to go with Allgeier Martin and Associates.
“I have explicit trust and faith in our Utility Director Mike Ray and in our City Engineer and Public Works Director Keith Francis,” Dobbins said. “Even after I had them go back and do a separate process on their own, it came in the same ranking, so I feel comfortable in their choice. But it’s an ongoing process and, quite, frankly, I feel it should always evolve.”
Dobbins said the effort to review the selection process is already underway and stems from bad experience in the past.
“I think part of the problem is, there’s still that lingering concern involving the (Highway) 76 Project,” Dobbins said. “I’ll freely admit to this to anyone. That’s why I say it’s not anybody else’s problem, I say ‘We.’ That’s why we had an audit done.”
One of those problems, Dobbins said, was the low number of bids on projects the city would receive in the past.
“That led into taking a deep look into the process we utilized to select contractors,” Dobbins said. “Personally, and it’s no secret I’m not from here, I was taken aback seeing, not only the contractors, but the limited number that would bid for projects. That goes back to our entire open market system. It’s based on us getting the best price through a bid process, and when you have such a limited number of bidders, it’s very difficult for us to get a good price.”
“We looked at insurance rates because, until recently, we had some requirements which were above the state requirements and were not in line to the task and we were able to work with the board and get those reduced,”Dobbins said. “So that has helped us and we’ve started getting more bidders.”
Dobbins also said the city consulted with the United States Engineering Association to come up with a new selection system.
“The new system we’re putting into place has fewer categories,” Dobbins said. “We reached out to the United States Engineering Association and asked them for a nationwide best practice in selecting architectural firms, construction companies, engineers, and they provided us with that information. We did add a couple things to that. One of them was, once we narrow it down to three participants, I want a thorough background (check) done of those companies from their references if they were on budget and if they were on schedule. One of the issues that gets noted is someone who comes in, knows the system and low-bids the project. Then on the back end, once they’re awarded the project, we start to see change orders and when change orders occur, maybe the low-bidding company was higher than the next company in line.
“Those are all things that came to our attention and we’re focusing on. The new selection process will actually involve checking references and checking the people who made those bids did come in on target, on the appropriate time frame.”
According to a report from the utilities department, project designs are scheduled for completion on April 19, with bids for construction set to begin in May. Bids for construction would be presented to the board of aldermen in June with a notice to proceed for construction by July 10.