091115 chief charlo1 kw.jpg

Peter Contos, a first-grader at Chief Charlo School 20 years ago when the school first opened and a time capsule was put away, looks for familiar faces in Polaroids from the time capsule while he and Jenny Gentilli, a student teacher at the school, unpack the items last fall during an assembly for students and parents.

Construction is in full swing in Missoula County Public Schools, with crews tackling 16 projects this summer while the district continues to secure construction contracts for other projects on the horizon.

MCPS trustees unanimously approved Missoula-based Sirius Construction as the general contractor for the Chief Charlo Elementary, Jefferson School and Rattlesnake Elementary projects at their Tuesday meeting.

Sirius was the lowest bidder on the three projects. State law requires school districts to award contracts to the lowest responsible bidder, "responsible" meaning "the capability in all respects to perform fully the contract requirements and the integrity and reliability that will ensure good faith performance."

"In order to not be responsible, we have to show why they would not be responsible, whether that's through previous work or experience with the district with that contractor," said operations and maintenance supervisor Burley McWilliams. "Given that we have none with (Sirius) at this time, we would consider that the lowest responsible bidder."

Sirius’ bid for Chief Charlo came in at $86,345 (about $11,000 less than the next-lowest bid), for Jefferson at $179,638 (about $9,000 less than the next-lowest bid) and for Rattlesnake at $3,984,378 (about $120,000 less than the next-lowest bid).

Sirius was one of two companies to withdraw bids for facilities projects in May after finding an error in its bid. Sirius had bid $1,152,150 for the Paxson Elementary project, coming in $169,000 less than the next-lowest bid by Missoula-based Western Interstate Inc. After Sirius’ bid was withdrawn, the project was awarded to Western Interstate.

The MCPS trustees agreed last month, with hesitance and a warning to future bidders, to waive the companies’ bid security, about $115,000 on Sirius’ end.

"Nope, nope, administration did not have anxiety about it at all," McWilliams said on Wednesday of Sirius' new bids. "We felt the numbers that came in were close to the numbers we had projected internally. So we feel confident and are excited to start working with Sirius."

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Trustees showed some concern Tuesday night, though ultimately they awarded all three projects to Sirius.

"I was a little surprised to see this company come in as the low bid on all three bids after what we went through before was quite unusual to have someone pull a bid out … so I was confused why it was one of those to come back with three low bids following that action," said trustee Diane Lorenzen. "I talked to Pat (McHugh, executive director of business and operations) and Burley (McWilliams) and Shane (Swandal, of Hulteng Inc., MCPS' owners representative for the facilities projects) and … the bottom line is we have to award the low bid."

Trustee Mike Smith said this is an opportunity for Sirius "to prove themselves, and to prove that the first one hopefully was an anomaly." The fact that Sirius submitted bids for three projects immediately after its slip-up in May "suggests that they're readily willing and able to do so (honor their bids) if they've submitted additional bids," said trustee chair Marcia Holland.

The budget for the Paxson renovation, which includes a building addition, is estimated at about $2.1 million. Rattlesnake's renovation is budgeted at nearly $4.8 million, including heating and cooling upgrades, a new entry, roof issues and other structural problems.

While Paxson (one of the newer schools) is getting classrooms added on, it won't see the heating, cooling and mechanical upgrades that Rattlesnake needs. About $185,000 was budgeted for Paxson's deferred maintenance; Rattlesnake is budgeted for about $2.1 million.

Some of Rattlesnake's work will have to wait. Classroom remodels will be considered later "to see how we're doing with budgets," McWilliams said. In addition, the district is holding off on re-roofing except for the barrel roof over the gym and some structural upgrades. Re-roofing bids are coming in high as construction season gets underway.

"We'll wait for a better time of year to revisit that," McWilliams said.

Trustee Jennifer Newbold wondered about Sirius' ability to take on multiple projects.

"It has to do with bonding capacity," McWilliams said. "They have to have that to do these projects. It's part of the specifications in the bid packet. What they work on outside of this, we don't know. But we suspect if they meet those bonding capacities that they're able to complete the work according to the specifications and the bid documents."

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Rattlesnake kindergarten teacher Lisa Thomas expressed concerns that the district did not adequately communicate this project to Rattlesnake staff, and that classes will "have to live through our construction" this fall, whereas Franklin and Lowell move to swing spaces.

"This has been a massive stress on me," she said as she started to cry. "I'm here today as myself, not representing Rattlesnake staff, though I think many would be in my same position.

"There has been no district support of time compensation, assistance. I was happy to see some people in the last week of school so other schools do not have to go through what we went through with this. I have never been so happy to see the last day of school and walk out of that building as I was on Friday."

MCPS is juggling 16 projects this summer, which includes several re-roofing projects.

General contractors have been named for seven facilities projects: Dick Anderson Construction for Lowell, Jackson Contractor Group for Franklin, Western Interstate Inc. for Paxson, Wadsworth Builders Company for Seeley-Swan High School and Sirius for Chief Charlo, Rattlesnake and Jefferson. Field Turf was chosen as the vendor for the MCPS Stadium track and artificial turf projects, and McWilliams said it will soon be securing subcontractors.

Roofing contractors also have been selected for projects at Big Sky and Hellgate high schools, Meadow Hill and Washington middle schools and Lewis and Clark Elementary.

The Vocational Agriculture Center is currently moving through a Department of Environmental Quality permitting process for a new process kitchen, and the contractor selection will follow.

Editor's note: This story previously misstated where Western Interstate Inc. is located. Western is a Missoula-based company.

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Reporter for the Missoulian