Local employees irked as out-of-towner wins contract bid

Middlebury firm to manage $6.8 million public safety project

By Tom Gresham
Observer staff

Each morning, Doug Robie drives by the future sites of Williston’s new fire and police stations on his way to work at DEW Construction Corp. Once construction starts on the project, he will try to keep his eyes trained exclusively on the road ahead.

“I’m not looking forward to driving by that every day and seeing the ‘Bread Loaf Construction’ signs less than a mile from the DEW office,” Robie said. “That’s going to hurt.”

Robie’s disappointment stems from the town of Williston’s selection of Middlebury-based Bread Loaf Corp. to handle construction management duties for the project. He feels that DEW was jilted for the job despite having its headquarters in Williston. Although he insists he is not speaking for DEW, Robie notes he has spoken to several fellow employees with the same gripe.

“I’m astounded we didn’t get the job,” Robie said.

The town’s Public Safety Building Committee selected Bread Loaf last month from a pool of five pre-qualified candidates for construction manager. The job includes selecting subcontractors, providing estimation services and managing the $6.8 million project. The new facilities will include constructing a fire and rescue station on the former Mahan Farm on U.S. Route 2 and converting the current fire station to a police station.

The committee’s pick came down to DEW and Bread Loaf, but ultimately each of the seven committee members present at the key meeting agreed that Bread Loaf was the right pick. The decision was based on qualifications and the committee’s interview with the specific members of the team that would be working on the project.

“The bottom line was that the committee just liked the team that Bread Loaf put together a little bit better,” Town Manager Rick McGuire said.

McGuire, who works with the committee, said proximity to the project was included among the criteria to be considered in the applicants. However, he said, whether or not a business was based in Williston was not a major consideration for most committee members.

Herb Goodrich appears to have been an exception. Goodrich missed the June 16 meeting when Bread Loaf was selected, but sent word that he strongly preferred DEW, “because they are local and will be able to provide the best oversight over the project,” according to the minutes of the meeting.

McGuire depicted the committee’s deliberations on the decision as “agonizing,” because members had high opinions of all of the candidates, particularly DEW and Bread Loaf. The finances of the two proposals were too similar to make a difference, McGuire said.

Leo Ioannou stepped down from the committee in the middle of the June 16 meeting because he believed the choice of Bread Loaf was obvious and committee members were taking too long to select it, McGuire said.

“It was really tight,” said Police Chief Ozzie Glidden, a member of the committee. “There were two or three that it was nip and tuck with.”

Lucas Jensen, the committee chairman, could not be reached for comment. Andy Mikell, the Selectboard representative on the committee, declined to comment.

One plus for Bread Loaf was its work on a police station in Middlebury. Glidden visited the station and spoke to the Middlebury police chief, who strongly recommended the company.

Don Wells, president of DEW, pointed out that his company had worked on a Vermont State Police facility in Derby and a fire station in Johnson. Wells did not criticize the committee’s decision, saying, “you win some and you lose some.” However, he admitted that he thought his company’s Williston address would give it an edge in a close contest. DEW also provided free estimates of the cost of the project last year.

“I think some people here (at DEW) felt very strongly that if it was close and we had people who were taxpayers who were helping to pay for this project and we had done some free work up front for this, then we would get it,” Wells said. “But it just didn’t work out that way.”

Wells said it is difficult to measure how often municipalities heavily weigh whether a contractor is based in the same municipality when awarding a contract, but he said “some do.”

Bread Loaf apparently believed DEW’s address would be an advantage. McGuire said Bread Loaf initially declined to apply for the position because it assumed the job would be dealt to a Williston business, but he urged the company to reconsider.

“I had to convince them that the town would have an open mind and the decision would be based on qualifications and not whether they were located in Williston or not,” McGuire said.