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Bid protest delays tennis complex

By Jackie R. Broach
Coastal Observer

A public tennis complex in Litchfield may open next fall instead of next summer, the target date Georgetown County officials gave earlier this year.

A delay in the selection of a firm to plan the details of new recreation facilities going up throughout the county as part of a $330 million capital improvement plan will also mean a delay in construction.

Following a protest filed by SGA Architecture of Pawleys Island, the county is revising its request for proposals and rebidding the job among four firms selected as finalists, said Kyle Prufer, the county’s purchasing officer.

Plans are to send the revised request out by the end of the week and make a recommendation to County Council on Jan. 12, but it will likely be February before the selected firm can get to work.

“This sets us back months,” Prufer said. “We thought we would be at least a month into working with the recommended offerer by now.”

The firm will be tasked with surveying sites for recreation projects and creating a plan that will incorporate all aspects of each recreation project in the capital plan, including creating a layout for facilities, parking and drainage.

Woolpert of Charleston was county staff’s pick of the four finalists, which also included SGA, Wood + Partners of Hilton Head and DDC Engineers of Myrtle Beach.

The firms were rated on five factors: quality and completeness of proposal, project business plan, branch location, time of completion and cost of services.

Woolpert was the low bidder and rated highest.

When the bids went before County Council in September, however, council members were concerned about how much lower Woolpert’s bid was than the others received and asked staff to make sure the firm and the county were on the same page about the services to be provided.

Woolpert estimated its maximum fee would be $187,500. The next lowest bid was $454,221 from Wood + Partners. The remaining bids were in excess of $900,000.

“We said at that time there would be a validation process, but it never got that far,” Prufer said.

SGA submitted a letter of protest when notice of intent to award to Woolpert was issued.

In a 35-page document submitted to the county last month, SGA claimed the overall selection process was misleading, overly complex and confusing.

When the county sent out a request for qualifications in March, SGA was the highest ranked firm. The letter said that ranking was supposed to have been taken into account in the final evaluation, but wasn’t.

SGA argues the selection of Woolpert was ultimately price-based, which violates state law for procuring architects and engineers.

“Part of their contention was we shouldn’t be concerned with price, but with quality,” Prufer said.

County policy is to consider quality and price, along with other factors, including whether the bidding firm is local.

No ruling was issued on SGA’s objections, but they did motivate a closer look at the selection committee’s recommendation to contract with Woolpert.

“In going back through questions and answers on the proposal itself, the committee was no longer satisfied they had indeed made the best recommendation for the county,” Prufer said.

Once the revised request for proposals has been sent out, plans are to get representatives from the four qualifying firms together to ensure “everyone is clear on what we want to do and what we want the price of” before new proposals are submitted, Prufer said.

Prufer met on Monday with County Administrator Sel Hemingway to finalize wording of the revised request.

In their original proposals, the firms projected it would take nine to 12 months to complete the work, but some projects can be started earlier than that, Hemingway said.

“If it was determined early in the process that a specific site would definitely be used for tennis courts, there’s an opportunity to go ahead and start developing that site,” he said.

But if the delay in selecting a firm ends up being four months, the delay to starting construction will likely also be four months, he said.

A benefit of the delay is that proposals will be based on complete information about the property available for development of recreation projects, Prufer said. When the last request went out, the county was still acquiring property.

All the property needed for recreation projects on Waccamaw Neck was purchased early this year. The county paid $8.7 million for three connecting properties in Litchfield that total 80 acres. The land is between Petigru Drive and the dirt portion of Parkersville Road and will be home to a tournament level tennis complex, ball fields and walking trails, among other recreation projects.

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