On a recent Monday morning, city building inspector Mike Schieber contacted about 15 demolition companies. A vacant house on Baynes Street, on the city's West Side, caught fire and needed to come down, he told them. The demo must be completed by the next day.
Not long after the call, at about 10:30 a.m., demo men from about about half a dozen companies arrived at the burned and battered Baynes Street house.
After inspecting the building, each stood in front of the vacant house and, at promptly 11 a.m., each submitted a written bid to Schieber, who was also at the scene.
All bids were in the low to high $20,000 range except one -- from Hannah Demolition, which bid $15,999.
Hannah's low bid seemed to startle some of the other bidders, but Hannah supervisor Mike Trala said his company could do the work for less money because it owns all its own trucks.
Early the next day, Baynes Street had the feel of an environmental danger zone.
Tape was posted around the house, warning of asbestos. Windows on the house next door were covered up. An air monitoring crew hired by the city was at the scene, posting small blue boxes at the site.
The Hannah demolition crew put on coveralls, with an attached air monitor. One of the Hannah crew members, Dan Smith, sprayed water onto the site the entire time that Albert Steele, owner of Hannah, worked the high-lift equipment to knock down the house.
Taking a break from the work, Steele said the job was bigger than he and Trala realized.
"I bid it cheap. We should have bid $18,900," Steele said. "[Trala] said we should be able to do it in two to 2 1/2 loads. It could be it's going to be three or 3 1/2 loads.
"We're only going to make $3,500."
Later that morning, there was another emergency bid, this one on Churchill Street in Riverside. This vacant house also caught fire.
Again, about 15 demolition companies were called. Five showed up.
Niagara Environmental bid $22,000. So did Metro Environmental.
SCMartin bid $27,950. Hannah bid $19,999. Geiter Done bid $16,800.
Geiter Done's winning bid didn't evoke any reaction from the competitors. Geiter Done didn't have any other work pending with the city at the time and probably really wanted the bid to keep all its people employed, another of the demo men said.
-- Susan Schulman