Although a selection committee will advise the Monroe County School Board to award Ajax Building Co. a $15 million contract at tomorrow evening’s scheduled meeting — the Keys Weekly has fielded more than a dozen calls over the past several days from local residents questioning several elements of the bid.
For more than a decade, Key West High School athletes and spectators have waited for a new football stadium and baseball complex, and excitement has mounted as the School Board is poised to move forward. But board members may have to field some opposition at Tuesday’s meeting before initiating a construction contract with Ajax Building Co., not because Ajax lacks the qualifications, but because this would be the seventh consecutive contract that the School Board awards to Ajax, bringing the total to $140 million that the school district has spent with the Tallahassee-based company during that span. Ajax recently built the new Gerald Adams Elementary School, Sugarloaf School, Switlik Elementary School, the “backyard” athletic complex at Key West High School and the district’s new transportation facility on Stock Island.
No one has questioned the company’s success or qualifications, but Gulf-Keystar, the other qualified bidder for the stadium project, wants the board to reconsider, given a state statute that aims to discourage government entities from giving large contracts to the same companies over and over again.
Florida’s Consultants’ Competitive Negotiation Act states, “The Legislature recognizes that fair and open competition is a basic tenet of public procurement; that such competition reduces the appearance and opportunity for favoritism and inspires public confidence that contracts are awarded equitably and economically.”
The law requires that school districts and other government entities “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.”
A selection committee from the school district ranked the responses to the district’s Request for Qualifications. Ajax was ranked first and Keystar was ranked second, 17 points behind Ajax out of a possible total of 400 points.
Charles “Chas” Spottswood, co-president of Keystar, played baseball for Key West High School at Rex Weech Field, then for University of Florida. His firm partnered with Gulf Construction on the Key West High School stadium bid. Gulf built the athletic complex at Florida Atlantic University.
When asked about the applicability of the Consultants’ Competitive Negotiation Act in this case, Superintendent Theresa Axford that she was unable to comment specifically on this contract, but said the district’s attorney will explain during Tuesday’s public hearing on the stadium contract “how and why the district is following the state statute to the letter.”
One source speaking anonymously to the Weekly during a call today, said he is still contemplating speaking at tomorrow’s meeting, but is concerned that a local company was passed up with similar qualifications.
“We have a local company with local workers,”said the caller. “We continue to preach about kids coming back to Key West after college, but when they do, we continue to farm bids outside of the county. I have no issue with Ajax. They seem to be a good company. But with a bid this close, why give them another job that will literally take tens of millions of dollars out of the local community?”
The School Board meets at 5 p.m. Tuesday, June 8 at its Key West headquarters on Trumbo Road. Visit www.keysweekly.com for continued coverage of this story.