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StarBulletin.com

Hilltop holdup


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POSTED: Monday, August 03, 2009

A $100 price difference and a disagreement about the legal definition of a word has delayed the renovation of the University of Hawaii president's residence by several months.

That delay means College Hill will not be available when incoming UH President M.R.C. Greenwood takes office, and she will get a $5,000 monthly housing allowance until the home is finished, perhaps in January.

The university had hoped to finish the remodeling job by Aug. 24, Greenwood's first day at UH. But a bid protest held up the award of the contract, and the university is now hoping construction will at least begin by then.

Brian Minaai, UH associate vice president for capital improvements, said that even after paying the housing allowance, the university is still way under budget on the renovations.

UH expected to spend nearly $700,000 to replace the flooring, paint and repair some of the roof and cabinets in the 117-year-old home.

Thirteen companies, an unusually high number, bid between $272,900 and $562,000 on the job in February, Minaai said.

The low bids, and perhaps the protest itself, could be a reflection of the economy and increased competition for work, Minaai said.

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In the past, Minaai said, “;If they (contractors) didn't win a bid, they would just move on to the next project.”;

James Huang of All Maintenance and Repair was the low bidder. The second-lowest bidder, Brian's Contracting, was only $100 higher at $273,000.

But Brian's Contracting protested the contract award.

The protest centered on the word “;subcontractor”; and whether the company providing steel beams to support the porch and flooring was a subcontractor or supplier.

Brian's said fitting the beams required a subcontractor with a license who needed to be listed on bidding documents.

AMR said its company, which was licensed, was merely supplying the steel beams, which would be fitted off site and installed by AMR workers.

The UH procurement office agreed with Brian's Contracting in April. AMR protested the decision, and a hearings officer upheld the university's decision in June.

A contract is expected to be signed within two weeks, Minaai said.

Karen Nakamura, chief executive officer of the Building Industry Association, said bidding on state jobs can be complicated.

“;Bidders are scrutinizing (the listing law) now because there's less work and they have time to do that,”; she said.

Eric Yamagata, attorney for Brian's Contracting, said the economy might have been a factor in his client's bid protest.

“;It's work. He wants the work,”; Yamagata said.

“;To me it's just business,”; said Huang.

Nakamura said recent changes to state procurement law that add requirements could lead to more contract protests, and she said contractors need to be aware of the changes.

Whether it is bid protests or soaring costs, problems with remodeling work at College Hill are nothing new.

Cost overruns led to widespread criticism of former UH President Evan Dobelle. The cost of the College Hill renovations in 2001 ballooned to more than $1 million, from the original estimate of about $170,000.

Dobelle promised to raise private money to cover the costs but, when questioned later by state lawmakers, said he only raised about $50,000.

Controversies over College Hill date back to 1963, when the Atherton family donated the residence to the university. According to the UH history book “;Malamalama,”; Thomas Hamilton, the UH president at the time, called the contractors involved in the project into his office for a conference over the months-long delays in construction.

“;Gentlemen, I want you to know that in a fairly active administrative life, I have had the responsibility at one time or another for millions of dollars' worth of construction and remodeling,”; Hamilton said. “;I would like you to know that I have never encountered so much difficulty and incompetence in meeting deadlines adequately as I have encountered on this $100,000 job.”;