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Poloncarz halts work on STEM building project at ECC as bid dispute breaks out

Construction of a $30 million academic building for Erie Community College remains up in the air due to the threat of litigation by a contractor that lost the bidding for the biggest part of the project.

County legislators again refused to approve bid awards for a new Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics building at ECC’s North Campus, prompting Erie County Executive Mark C. Poloncarz on Friday to put on hold any work related to the project until lawmakers meet as a full Legislature July 14.

“Unfortunately, the Legislature and the county executive are in the middle of an argument,” said ECC President Jack F. Quinn Jr. “What’s caught in the middle of this is the STEM building. It’s been delayed so many times for lawsuits and now, governmental disagreement. Some people wonder whether it’s ever going to happen. It’s too important not to happen.”

Poloncarz, in a statement, suggested he would scrap the project entirely if legislators try to award a contract to the second-lowest bidder, LPCiminelli, the company that complained about Scrufari Construction’s low bid for general construction work on the building.

“I will not be intimidated by disgruntled losing bidders and their threats of lawsuits as some members of the Legislature may,” Poloncarz said in a statement. “I will also not stand idly by while this Legislature or any party deliberately makes reckless decisions that have the potential to waste hundreds of thousands if not millions of dollars of taxpayer money. I will act in accordance with the law and in the best interest of the people of Erie County, even if that means the project might not be built.”

Scrufari submitted a low bid of $7,644,100 for general construction work, while LPCiminelli bid $7,667,800. Representatives from LPCiminelli said Scrufari did not submit a properly executed minority/women business enterprise utilization report with its bid, giving Scrufari an unfair advantage over other bidders.

The county’s lawyers, however, said that the missing report was a clerical oversight, not a “material deficit” that would affect the bid prices, and that Scrufari corrected the informality within hours of the bid opening. A lawyer for LPCiminelli has threatened a lawsuit.

The Legislature’s Community Enrichment Committee, whose oversight responsibilities include ECC, heard from LPCiminelli representatives and from Assistant County Attorney Kristen M. Walder before voting 4-2 Thursday not to approve contracts with the low bidders for the STEM building work. The full Legislature meets July 14 and is expected to consider the bids again.

Groundbreaking for the building was scheduled for Aug. 24, with completion expected by December 2017.

A lawsuit or rebidding for the project would likely push that date back. The new building was initially approved in 2010, when the state agreed to set aside $15 million to help pay for the project.

County and college officials have been counting on the building to help revitalize the Amherst campus and boost the college’s sagging enrollment.

Groundbreaking already was delayed from earlier this year, after the project had to be rebid.