Contractor disputes San Benito CISD bid award

In this Sept. 4, 2020, file photo, phase one of construction is underway on the future site of San Benito CISD’s aquatic center and performing arts center. (Claire Cruz/Valley Morning Star)

We’ve done everything correctly. We’ve been working very hard for the district. We’ve been doing our best and continue to do that. This is our reputation as well.

SAN BENITO — The contractor behind the San Benito school district’s $40 million bond-funded project is disputing the school board’s decision to award a construction contract to another company.

On Thursday, Tony Davila, the senior project manager with Davila Construction in San Antonio, said the school board agreed to award the so-called “civil package” to Edinburg-based Texas Cordia Construction, which presented a $4.2 million bid, arguing his company offered the lowest bid for the project that was part of its contract.

During a meeting Tuesday, the school board voted 6-0 to award the civil package to Texas Cordia Construction, which district officials considered the low bidder with a $4.2 million proposal.

But Davila said his company presented the lowest bid — a $4.1 million offer.

“They chose to disregard because there was a problem with the bidding form, but I drafted a corrected bid form,” Davila said Thursday during an interview.

The estimated $4.5 million civil package, which includes construction of a parking lot, sidewalks and curbs and gutters along with installation of electrical and utility connections and landscaping, was part of his company’s contract with district, Davila said.

“Supposedly, they did it to save money,” he said. “In the meantime, they side-stepped our contract. It was a shock to us. I’m not comfortable with it. We don’t appreciate it. It was part of our scope.”

Davila Construction, which has been contracted for projects such as the San Antonio River Walk’s expansion, has been adhering to its contract with the district, Davila said.

“We’ve done everything correctly,” he said. “We’ve been working very hard for the district. We’ve been doing our best and continue to do that. This is our reputation as well.”

Low bidder disputed

Meanwhile, Robert Macheska, an engineer with Edinburg-based GDJ Engineering who was part of the district committee which scored three construction companies’ bids for the civil package, said Davila Construction presented a bid of about $4.5 million to $4.6 million, which he described as the highest bid.

On Thursday, Superintendent Theresa Servellon stated Davila Construction submitted two bids for the civil package, while its low bid “did not adhere to the project specifications.”

“A representative of Davila Construction Inc. has now taken the position that they submitted the lowest bid,” she stated. “That is inaccurate.”

“Texas Cordia Construction provided the lowest dollar bid to complete the work in accordance with the specifications that were determined to be necessary by the district’s licensed civil engineer,” she stated. “Davila Construction Inc. submitted two bids in response to the (competitive sealed proposal) request. Davila’s first bid, which contained the same amounts of materials and work specified in the CSP and used by the other bidders, was actually the highest-dollar bid by far among the three — the bid was approximately $420,000 higher than the one provided by the lowest bidder, Texas Cordia Construction.”

“In an apparent attempt to confuse the issues, Davila Construction Inc. submitted a second ‘alternative’ lower-dollar bid that did not adhere to the project specifications and was only lower because it assumed the use of less materials and work than those specified in the CSP,” Servellon stated. “If the project results in the use of lower quantities of materials, those will be savings realized by the district, and in that case a project completed by Texas Cordia Construction would be expected to offer substantial savings below that alternate bid submitted by Davila Construction Inc.”

Bidding delay

Meanwhile, Davila said district officials delayed requesting construction bids for the civil package, during which time costs climbed.

At the time engineers reviewed Davila Construction’s original contract, they estimated the civil package’s cost at $3.3 million, Macheska said.

For months, district officials delayed requesting the civil package’s construction bids, Davila said.

“We’ve been asking since Dec. 2021 to advertise so they could go out for bids,” he said.

Political football

Since the past school board proposed a $40 million bond issue in 2018, the overall project has turned into one of city’s hottest political footballs, drawing fire from its opponents.

In 2019, the past school board working with former Superintendent Nate Carman awarded the Edinburg-based Brighton Group a contract to serve as project manager months after 54 percent of voters passed the $40 million bond issue aimed at building a $21.3 million performing arts theater, an $8.8 million aquatics center and a $5.7 million in-door practice field.

Then in 2020, an election shifted the board’s balance of power, with its majority hiring Servellon last year.

Last month, school board members voted to terminate the Brighton Group’s contract without cause, Joseph Palacios, the company’s president, said in an earlier interview.

In this Sept. 4, 2020, file photo, phase one of construction is underway on the future site of San Benito CISD’s aquatic center and performing arts center. (Claire Cruz/Valley Morning Star)

Total costs projected to climb

Last week, district officials posted a statement on the their website, estimating the $40 million bond project’s overall cost was projected to climb by $11.8 million to a total of $51.8 million.

On the website’s post, Servellon included the cost of the civil package, estimated at $4.5 million.

Meanwhile, Davila Construction has requested $1.29 million in change orders stemming from “material cost escalation,” she stated.

”District administration presented change orders from Davila Construction, Inc. for material cost escalation as well as a change order for weather delays — which would extend the projected completion date of the natatorium from April 14, 2023 to Aug. 19, 2023; the projected date of completion for the performing arts center would move from July 21, 2023 to Dec. 28, 2023,” Servellon stated.

“It is important to note that these change orders have not yet been approved by the board of trustees,” she stated. “Additionally, the district outlined in detail current and upcoming expenditures related to the bond projects. As of Feb. 15, 2023, the district has paid and encumbered a total of $44,022,426 for the three bond projects.”

Supply chain crisis cost impact

During development of the overall bond-funded project launched in 2019, the coronavirus pandemic’s production shutdown led to the supply chain crisis which has driven up materials’ costs, Davila said.

“Supplies were short,” he said. “Everything went up in price. We were able to minimize the impact.”

The district’s projected total costs also include an estimated $2 million for installation of technology, communication and security systems, access controls and furnishings.

On Thursday, Davila said the district had agreed to handle the so-called technology project.

The estimated $2 million technology project was “excluded” from his contract, he said.