A local construction company is asking how the school district can award seven consecutive construction contracts to the same company when a state law requires them to spread those contracts equitably among qualified firms.

And did district officials consider that law, or the six prior contracts they had awarded to Ajax Building Co. last week, when they again chose Ajax to build Key West High School’s new $15 million stadium over a local company?

These are the questions that Gulf-Keystar, the other qualified firm that did not get the stadium contract, wants the school district to answer. Its attorneys on Friday sent the school district a “notice of intent to protest” the awarding of the stadium bid to Ajax.

“I’m hopeful that we’ll now get the answer to the question we’ve been asking all along: Where was the equitable distribution of work accounted for and considered by the school district?” Keystar co-president Robert Spottswood, Jr. told the Keys Weekly on June 12.

 “We were asked by the school board and its counsel to file this protest when we wanted to ask questions about it at the June 8 board meeting.”

The school district  this spring issued a Request for Qualifications (RFQ) from companies interested in building the new KWHS stadium. Five companies responded and two — Ajax and Gulf-Keystar — were shortlisted by a school district selection committee that interviewed both companies. 

Key West High School’s Tommy Roberts Memorial Stadium is due for replacement, but questions surround the $15 million construction contract. MANDY MILES/Keys Weekly

Out of a possible 400 points, the committee awarded Ajax 17 more points than Gulf-Keystar.

Ajax is located in north Florida and New York. Gulf-Keystar is a joint venture between Gulf Building in Fort Lauderdale and the Key West-based Keystar, which is owned by the local Spottswood family.

The selection committee recommended that the school board award the stadium bid to Ajax, despite acknowledging in its own RFQ the state law requiring equitable distribution of work among qualified firms.

That law is known as Florida’s Consultants’ Competitive Negotiation Act (CCNA), which was “designed to prevent the inequitable distribution of competitive state and local government contracts among qualified contractors.” 

In its notice of intent to protest, Gulf-Keystar’s attorneys, the law firm of Baker-Hostetler, write to the school district: “Ajax has been awarded the last six consecutive projects advertised by the school district under the CCNA, dating back to 2015. All told, this totals over $138 million to Ajax during this time period to the exclusion of all other qualified contractors. 

“When the school board chose to award this [stadium] project to Ajax, this will make seven awards totaling over $150 million to Ajax.

“Section 287.055 of the Florida Statutes requires that the school board consider ‘the volume of work previously awarded to each firm by the agency, with the object of effecting an equitable distribution of contracts among qualified firms.’

“The school board has confirmed that Keystar was a qualified contractor for the project; in fact, Keystar was one of only two firms shortlisted for interviews and was the second highest scored contractor for the project.

“The award of this project violates the CCNA as it consolidates too many awards under such a short time period in Ajax’s hands. Thus … Keystar intends to protest the award of this project to Ajax under the CCNA.”

Keystar’s attorneys further point out in their notice that the school district’s own RFQ contains even stronger language about the equitable distribution of contracts.

The stadium RFQ states, “An RFQ is awarded to a short list of responsive and responsible contractors. … Project work is rotated through the short list as it is identified. Every effort is made to equitably distribute the workload amongst all contractors.” 

Keystar attorneys wrote in their notice of intent to protest, “Only two contractors were shortlisted for the project — Ajax and Keystar. Thus, the school board should have made ‘every effort’ to select Keystar over Ajax, taking into consideration the near identical scoring of the two firms and the fact that the past $138 million worth of contracts went to Ajax and not Keystar. The school board failed to do so. Thus… Keystar intends to protest the award of this Project to Ajax under the plain language of the RFQ.”

School board members declined to comment on pending legal matters.

Keys Weekly contacted Ajax Building through its website’s media inquiry contact page and asked if someone in the organization wanted to comment on the stadium bid. As of noon on Tuesday, June 15, they had not responded.

Stay tuned to keysweekly.com for updates to this story.


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Mandy Miles drops stuff, breaks things and falls down more than any adult should. She's married to a saintly — and handy — fisherman, and has been stringing words together in Key West since 1998.