Natalia ISD to re-bid bond project after firing construction manager

Progress on Package II of Natalia ISD’s bond is on hold after the Board of Trustees unanimously voted to fire construction manager Helen Keaton and send the project out to bid for a third time.
The decisions were made during a Special School Board meeting held last Tuesday, February 25, just two weeks after Superintendent Dr. Hensley Cone was granted the authority to negotiate with Keaton-recommended general contractor W.R. Griggs Construction.
“I am quite frustrated that the bond process has not been a smoother one,” Board President Eric Smith said. “When you trust advice from someone who is hired (Keaton Construction) as an expert, you expect to be led down the right road. Once we realized we were not, we took appropriate action.”

Check out these great deals from Brown Chevrolet or tap for more!

The Board approved Keaton’s recommendation of Griggs Construction at the Regular meeting on Feb. 10, though their $10.6 million bid was not the lowest. O’Haver Contractors, who ranked second in Keaton’s scoring, submitted the low bid of $10.4 million.
School districts are not required to accept the lowest bid on a project.
Seven individuals, including Keaton, evaluated the proposals submitted by the eleven general contractors who bid on Package II, which includes a new junior high wing, a new shared junior high and elementary cafeteria, and the demolition of old buildings.
Evaluation criteria included the cost of the bid (50 percent), qualifications (30 percent), and contractor interviews (20 percent).
Qualifications included years in business, the number of similar projects, reputation and references, prospective subcontractors, and more.
Each general contractor was interviewed, and their project manager, project superintendent, understanding of Package II, and other considerations were taken into account before Keaton ranked them and recommended Griggs Construction.
Every bid received exceeded the approximately $9.1 million that remains of the $10.7 million bond approved by voters in November 2018.
The biggest clue to the reason behind the Board’s Feb. 25 about-face on Keaton and her recommendation came from James Davis, a partner with architecture firm Garza Bomberger & Associates.
“You have a contractor who’s not happy that he wasn’t [Keaton’s] recommendation, and he’s expressed his dissatisfaction through his attorney,” Davis said.
Garza Bomberger partner Jorge Flores designed the work to be done in Package II.
While Davis acknowledged that the “quickest, most obvious” solution to the matter was to re-bid the project, he cautioned against it.
“I’ll be honest with you, I’m terrified of bidding it a third time,” Davis said. “My gut from doing this for so many years tells me the third time’s not going to be good.”
Smith questioned the gap between what the Board had been told the district could accomplish with the bond versus general contractors’ bids.
“I think there’s a lot of breakdowns in communication on how we got what we got when it comes to what we were promised, or led on to believe we could get, from our architecture firm,” Smith said, “as opposed to where we ended up.”
Davis said Garza Bomberger had predicted the price per square foot of the project to be $315, only for general contractor bids to come in between $325 and $350 per square foot.
“We just did a brand-new campus over at Medina Valley that opened up for $200 a square foot,” Davis said. “I don’t know why I can’t get better pricing down here, whether it’s San Antonio is so busy right now I can’t get [subcontractors] to come down here and be competitive because there’s so much work up there, or some other factor is affecting it.”
Despite his misgivings over taking Package II to bid for a third time, Davis vowed that his firm would stick with the project.

Zoom in and check out these deals, or tap the ad to see more!

“We do what we have to do, and we’ll get you there,” Davis said. “We’ll stay with it till you get a building out there, and you’re happy with it, and you paid a price that you thought was fair for you.”
Smith remained positive despite the setbacks.
“It is frustrating this bond is delayed slightly, but it is more important to make sure we take the next step forward assuring all processes are handled appropriately and legally,” Smith said. “Once the bond is complete, it is going to be a huge benefit for our district. I am really excited about what the future when it comes to the benefits this bond will bring.”
By Marly Davis
Staff Writer