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Online ad not a call for Fayette County jail bids

| Tuesday, Aug. 5, 2014, 12:01 a.m.

An online advertisement seeking bids for five phases of Fayette County's proposed $32 million jail wasn't an official ad, according to a commissioner.

But it looked official enough to at least one Pittsburgh contracting firm, which sent a $450 check to the courthouse to obtain bid documents.

“What we pulled out of the Pittsburgh Builders Exchange was an advertisement for bids,” said Dan Bradley, an estimator with SSM Industries Inc. “We proceeded accordingly. No one told us it was a dry run, or a fake.”

According to its website, Pittsburgh Builders Exchange, or PBX, is a trade association that provides members with news, bid documents and other information on construction projects in online “planrooms.”

A spokeswoman with the exchange deferred comment on the Fayette jail project to its architect, Crabtree Rohrbaugh & Associates of Mechanicsburg. Crabtree's project manager for the Fayette jail, Craig Zimmerman, was out of the office and did not return a phone call seeking comment.

County Commissioner Al Ambrosini said an ad posted to PBX's website was just an unofficial notice of the project.

“Typically, those are all unofficial rooms where architects and engineering firms give contractors a heads-up that projects are coming up in the future, with bid packages to be advertised,” Ambrosini said. “The reason architects and engineers put unofficial notice out is to spur competition.”

Commissioner Angela Zimmerlink questioned that notion, pointing out the PBX ad contained specific instructions for bidders. Those instructions included an invitation to attend a pre-bid conference at 10 a.m. Thursday at the Joseph A. Hardy Connellsville Airport in Dunbar Township, an Aug. 28 deadline for the submission of sealed bids, a listing of nine locations where contractors can examine bid documents and directions on where to send nonrefundable, $450 checks to obtain bidding documents via mail.

“It clearly says it's an advertisement for bids,” Zimmerlink said. “For them to say it's not an ad, they are just backpedaling.”

Nonetheless, Ambrosini said official ads won't run until either Zimmerlink or Commissioner Vincent Zapotosky signs off on them.

Zapotosky said he still supports the jail project, but he is not ready to sign off on the ads.

“I know Al had approached me for support in releasing the bids, and I said I would, with more information,” Zapotosky said. “Information needs to be shared with all parties, no matter what their position is on the project.”

Zapotosky said he has been stalled in efforts to acquire detailed information on the project, noting it took him “six weeks to get gosh-darn blueprints” from the architect.

Zapotosky, Zimmerlink and Jeanine Wrona, acting controller, said they learned bids might have been advertised when SMS' $450 check arrived at the courthouse on Thursday.

“They said they would be bidding on several packages, but I wasn't aware there was a bid advertisement,” said Wrona, who noted that her name is on the ad, but she was unaware it had been placed.

“It was purely by accident that person sent it to the county,” Wrona said. “Otherwise, I wouldn't have known.”

Wrona said standard procedure is for her office to handle bids, from writing the ads and placing them to receiving sealed bid packages and opening them. None of that occurred with the ad that appeared through PBX, she said.

Wrona said she directed that SMS' check be returned.

Although Bradley said he planned to attend Thursday's pre-bid meeting, Ambrosini said it will have to be rescheduled. The Aug. 28 deadline for bid submissions will be pushed back, he said, potentially jeopardizing the start of construction as winter approaches.

“The longer the delay in running the ads, the more likely the construction will be delayed,” Ambrosini said. “Right now, we are pushing the end of October for groundbreaking. I don't want to wait much longer than that. We won't be able to do much construction over the winter.”

Liz Zemba is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-601-2166 or lzemba@tribweb.com.

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