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Legislators delay OK of ECC project after Ciminelli complains

A dispute over the winning bid for construction of a new academic building at Erie Community College’s North Campus in Amherst prompted Erie County legislators on Thursday to delay approving contracts for the project.

Legislators voted unanimously to send the contracts back to committee for a review of the bidding process, after contractor LPCiminelli Inc. complained that another contractor’s low bid for general construction work did not comply with all of the bid requirements and should have been rejected.

The surprise vote was the latest setback for the college, which has been struggling in recent years with enrollment declines and fiscal challenges. College officials have been banking on the new Science, Technology, Engineering and Math Building to help turn around enrollment losses.

Niagara Falls-based Scrufari Construction submitted a low bid of $7,644,100 for general construction work on the STEM building. LPCiminelli’s bid came in at $7,667,800, second-lowest of four bids for the work.

But in a letter to John C. Loffredo, county commissioner of public works, Guy J. Agostinelli of the law firm Zdarsky, Sawicki & Agostinelli said that Scrufari Construction did not submit with its bid a properly executed Minority/Women Business Enterprise Utilization Report, as required by the terms of the bid process.

“Based on that, Scrufari’s bid was nonresponsive and should have been rejected,” Agostinelli wrote.

He demanded that Scrufari’s bid be disqualified and the contract awarded to LPCiminelli.

Scrufari Construction President Gary Sankes did not return a voicemail message seeking comment on LPCiminelli’s claims.

But County Attorney Michael A. Siragusa said the county did nothing wrong in awarding the bid to Scrufari.

Scrufari was among several bidders who were allowed an additional 24 hours to submit a completed Minority/Women Business Enterprise Utilization Form – and the irregularity did not alter the final bid prices or provide an advantage over other bidders, Siragusa wrote in a letter Thursday to County Legislature Chairman John J. Mills.

The county’s Department of Public Works acted in accordance with the state’s competitive bidding laws and relevant case law, and failing to award the contract to Scrufari would have exposed the county to litigation, he added.

Some legislators were still concerned that the bid process may have been tainted. Legislator Joseph C. Lorigo, R-West Seneca, went as far as labeling it a case of egregious and outrageous “bid rigging.”

“We need to back up and look at all the information that’s provided to us,” said Legislator Barbara Miller-Williams, D-Buffalo.

Legislator Thomas A. Loughran, D-Amherst, who has advocated for the project for years, said he was frustrated that the building has been delayed, but he agreed that the bid process needed to be reviewed before moving ahead.

After the meeting, County Executive Mark C. Poloncarz blasted Lorigo for “knowingly disseminating false information” about the bid process.

“Let the facts speak for themselves, the same facts that were presented to the Legislature prior to today’s session: there was no bid rigging,” Poloncarz said in a statement to The News. “Scrufari Construction was, and remains, the low bidder for the ECC STEM project. A simple clerical error on their part resulted in their neglecting to include MWBE certification paperwork in their application, an error that was remedied within 24 hours and completed their application satisfactorily.”

It’s unclear whether Thursday’s development will delay the start of construction. College and county officials were planning to break ground on the STEM building Aug. 24, with the expectation that the facility will be finished by December 2017.

The general construction work was one of seven bid packages awarded by the county for the STEM project, following the unsealing of bids on June 7. Scrufari also submitted a winning $2,054,000 bid for interior wall assemblies construction, which did not draw other bidders. Hogan Glass LLC won the exterior wall construction work with a $1,429,170 bid. Manning Squires Henning Inc. was low bidder at $610,000 for masonry, while J.W. Danforth Co. won the plumbing contract, Quackenbush Co. won the heating, air and ventilation work, and Goodwin Electric Corp. won the electrical and fire alarm contract.

The total amount of the seven winning bids came in at $18,848,270.

Legislators did approve ECC’s 2016-17 budget, despite some objections over another tuition increase at the college. Students will pay $4,733 per year in tuition, up $138 from 2015-16. Full-time students also will pay $45 per year more in technology fees than in 2015-16. The $108.5 million budget is about 2 percent smaller than in 2015-16.