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As Mason City signs first contracts on downtown project, bid process questions linger

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In a minute-long social media video, Mason City Mayor Bill Schickel announced last week that things were "moving forward on the downtown River City Renaissance project" and that he'd signed the contract for the first construction bid.

Construction, he said, would be starting, "shortly," in the J.C. Penney area where the arena will be built.

But even now, as years of the theoretical shade closer toward the tangible, there remains a knotty bundle of issues and questions.

At the Mason City Council meeting on Jan. 15, council members openly discussed the clarity of bid documents for bid package one, the short time frame for submission and the potential for litigation due to the process. Each issue effectively stemming from whether the city followed Section 26.3 of the Iowa Code, which calls for public construction project postings to be placed no fewer than 13 days and no more than 45 days before the bid filing date.

Five companies: Carl A. Nelson & Co., Charlson Excavating Co. Inc., Dean Snyder Construction, Henkel Construction and Larry Elwood Construction submitted bids for demolition and excavation, despite the possibly contracted bid window.

Charlson submitted the lowest bid at $291,500. Questions followed.

Bid problems

Officials said Charlson submitted an "incomplete bid" because it failed to include reserve money for any impediments – such as buried lines or irregular fault lines – identified during excavation and demolition.

But Erick Molstad, the vice president at Charlson, said that the bid discussion "wasn't transparent" and that the $50,000 addenda "error" made by Charlson was "not even of my work."

Molstad said that about a week went by where the city told him "they were going to award it to me, and then they didn’t."

He insisted that for at least 48 hours prior to the final decision to award the bid to Dean Snyder Construction, the city could've picked up the phone and called four of the bidders to ensure that they understood every element of the process.

"(I) spoke to Aaron Burnett, (I) went and pleaded my case," Molstad said. "Architects said they weren’t gonna accept my bid. (They said,) 'We can’t accept your bid because then the other four would sue us after the fact.'"

Multipurpose arena bids

For demolition and excavation

Contractor Bid
Carl A. Nelson & Co. $599,990
Charlson Excavating Co. Inc. $291,500
Dean Snyder Construction $423,500
Henkel Construction $538,000
Larry Elwood Construction $849,662

Rationale

Burnett, Mason City administrator, has said that the Charlson bid "did not include the same scope of work and accordingly was considered incomplete."

Burnett said that the city would've been happy to award the bid to a local group at a lower cost than what proposed but that would require everyone "competed on the same scope of work and that was not the case."

"If we chose to ignore that issue, I believe we would have exposed ourselves to an opportunity for litigation," Burnett said.

Restart?

Molstad's question then became even more specific, more direct.

"If you’re gonna throw my bid out, why aren’t you throwing them all out?" he asked. "(It's) not fair if everyone isn't reading it or bidding it the same."

According to Molstad, the spread of bids should've been more than enough evidence to the city that the process was murky.

"You shouldn’t have a $400,000 job and have the bids be from $200,000-plus to $800,000-plus. The bids should’ve been between 200 and 500."

He thinks that the fairest thing the city could've done was re-open the bidding process for the required two weeks and make sure everyone involved with the bidding is aware of every stipulation and requirement.

"(We've) been waiting four years, so what’s two more weeks?" Molstad said.

Still hopeful

Despite losing the bid, Molstad remains adamant that he wants what's best for the city and want's the project to succeed.

"I had a good plan, and it would’ve been a good plan for us," Molstad said. "And the city threw away $80,000 because they didn’t take the time to dot their I’s and cross their T’s."

Because his company specializes in excavation, there won't be anything with the arena that it could work on.

In fact, Molstad said that most employees are laid off or working in the shop because Charlson "doesn't do snow."

For now, Molstad's involvement with the arena might be limited to his children's hockey playing. His son plays here, while his daughter plays in Albert Lea. He's a supporter of a youth hockey and was "very aggressive" in his bidding because of that.

"I hope that my boy gets to play in that arena before he graduates," he said.

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