Something Stinks: Bidding Construction Projects

For those of you that might be new to my “Something Stinks” series, I have been trying to cover different areas that highlight Terre Haute’s ongoing issues with corruption. The name stems from the terrible smell that plagued Terre Haute during my entire adolescence. Like many local issues, you might not see explicit corruption in the information you can find in our local paper, but it’s important to keep in mind that Garmong Construction was/is the Tribune Star’s landlord. Garmong owned the property where the Tribune Star’s offices were formerly located (before they moved to the basement of the Meadows Shopping Center), and Garmong helped broker a deal between themselves, the city of Terre Haute, and the Tribune Star to own and build the Tribune Star’s new production facility.

With the grand opening of the new convention center slated for this April, I decided to try and understand how the process worked for it’s construction. If you remember the project was originally supposed to be a joint venture between Indiana State University and the Capital Improvement Board. That original plan fell through when the CIB experienced difficulties raising enough money for the project and when they attempted to appoint the Nations Group as the board’s project management representative. The former president of Indiana State University and the school’s director of government relations both voiced concerns about the amount of money being paid to Nations Group and the organization’s lack of experience and expertise.

According to the Capital Improvement Board website the board exists to, “strategically choose projects to advance the economic vitality of the community,” and the current board members are, “Duke Bennett, Terre Haute Mayor; Jon Marvel, President of the CIB; David Patterson, Executive Director of the Terre Haute Convention and Visitors Bureau Board; Steve Witt, President of the Economic Development Corporation; Chris Switzer, Vigo County Commissioner; Emily Crapo, Director of Operations at Morris Trucking Corporations; and Terri Conley, Senior VP and Senior Credit Officer at Terre Haute Savings Bank.” A notable exception to the board is Terre Haute businessman Greg Gibson who was, however, a board member at the time when the agreement was broken between ISU and the CIB.

It is still not clear whether the CIB had the authority to nullify the joint agreement considering both ISU board representatives, former president Dan Bradley and former director of government relations Greg Goode, were not present at the meeting when the agreement was dissolved. It was later revealed that the ISU representatives had not received an invitation to the meeting until the day of the meeting. According to an October 30th, 2017 article in the Tribune Star board chairman Jon Marvel is quoted as having told the board that ISU did not want to participate in any future meetings, but then latter claimed he was mistaken. Then, “Gibson moved to cancel the multi-party agreement and Terre Haute Mayor Duke Bennett seconded. Gibson, the mayor, Marvel, Anderson and Steve Witt (Terre Haute Department of Redevelopment) all voted in favor.”

Shortly after this meeting the CIB selected Nations Group as the board’s project management representative and they decided to move forward with a relatively new method for selecting a construction manager known as a Construction Manager at Risk. State statutes were changed to allow public entities to utilize the CMR method of project delivery. This method is different from the traditional design-bid-build delivery method in that the “public agency is not required to select the CMR who is the lowest bidder or who submits the lowest fee.” Another difference is that a construction company is selected early in the process and then that company oversees the bidding of subcontractors for the work on the project, and the company can then choose themselves for certain portions. Garmong Construction was selected from a group of three proposals. The decision, however, was not based on bids but on “scoring sheets” scored by members of the CIB and the Nations Group.

As mentioned above, once Garmong Construction was selected as the CMR for the project, they also oversaw the bidding process for the project. Several categories of construction received single bids, including the highest cost category of general construction ($4.3 million) which was bid and awarded, by and to, Garmong Construction themselves. In fact two of the three highest cost categories received single bids, “site work” ($2.6 million) was awarded as a single bid to Dennis Trucking, and “precast concrete” ($4.1 million) was awarded to Coreslab Structures as one of only two bids. Garmong has also been selected in similar fashion to oversee several other local construction projects including the new jail ($56.3 million), the new police station ($11.8 million), and the aquatic center ($9.8 million).

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