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County Legislature awards contracts for ECC building but lawsuit looms

Erie County legislators on Thursday finally cleared the way for construction on a long-awaited $30 million science and technology building at Erie Community College’s Amherst campus.

But the project still could be held up, if a contractor that disputed the bidding process follows through on its threat to sue the county.

“We’re looking at all of our options and we’ll make a final decision shortly,” said Guy J. Agostinelli, a lawyer for LP Ciminelli Inc.

Ciminelli maintained that Scrufari Construction, the winning bidder for general construction work, did not comply with all of the bid requirements and should have been disqualified.

Scrufari submitted a low bid of $7,644,100, while Ciminelli’s bid was second lowest at $7,667,800. But Agostinelli and other Ciminelli representatives said Scrufari failed to include with its bid a Minority/Women Business Enterprise Utilization Report, as required by the terms of the bid process, giving Scrufari an unfair advantage.

“Its bid should have been rejected,” he said.

Agostinelli originally put the county on notice in June. And, despite assurances from county officials that Scrufari submitted the proper paperwork within 24 hours of the bidding and that the clerical oversight had no material impact on the bid process, legislators in two previous meetings declined to approve the bid awards.

But after further deliberation on Thursday, they voted 8-3 to award a total of $18.8 million in contracts to six contractors, including Scrufari, which won a $2 million bid for interior wall construction, in addition to the general construction work.

Democratic Legislator Barbara Miller-Williams, one of three who voted against the proposal, said the county has done a poor job of ensuring minority and women-owned business involvement in county projects. She said she was sick of these problems being “swept under the rug.”

“It’s time for us to stop doing that, and stop once and for all what’s been going on,” she said.

County Executive Mark C. Poloncarz sent legislators a letter this week pointing out a local law enacted in 1987 that allows bidders up to three days from the bid opening to submit their Minority/Women Business Enterprise Utilization Reports.

“The law is clear,” said Legislator Ted Morton, R-Cheektowaga. “For my colleagues who feel that’s a wrong policy, let’s get it into Government Affairs, or whichever committee, and get it fixed.”

ECC President Jack F. Quinn Jr. acknowledged the possibility that another lawsuit could delay the project, which has faced hurdle after hurdle, including a previous court case, since the state set aside $15 million in 2010 toward construction costs.

“When we started, I never imagined it could take this long,” Quinn said. “But anything worthwhile is worth waiting for, as my father used to say.”

Poloncarz, who had characterized the bidding dispute as the complaint of a “disgruntled losing bidder,” was satisfied with Thursday’s vote.

“I believe the Legislature did the right thing,” he said. “Now we can move ahead and do what we need to do to create a building of excellence at the ECC North Campus.”

A groundbreaking for the new building is scheduled for Aug. 24. It is expected to be completed by December 2017.

In addition to providing a long-overdue upgrade to the aging Amherst campus, the new STEM building will allow the college to market itself better and to pursue other opportunities, including expanding and consolidating its nursing program at the downtown campus, said Quinn.

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