Officials fear economy will cause contractors to bid low and than jack up the price for additions to Lake Forest High School. A pre-bid meeting led to 38 contractors attending when seven or eight typically attend.

    The Lake Forest School District is moving forward with the bidding process for $6.9 million in additions to Lake Forest High School, but construction officials are worried about how the slumping economy will impact bids.

    Bob Grove of R.G. Architects told the Lake Forest Board of Education at its Jan. 22 meeting he’s concerned some contractors will submit low bids and then, after the contract is awarded, jack up their costs through construction change orders.

    Grove said 38 contractors showed up for a pre-bid meeting on the project, some from as far away as central Maryland. Such projects typically attract only seven or eight bidders, he added.

    “There’s not a lot of work out there,” Grove said. “One of our fears is that there’s so little work, [contractors] get desperate.”

    In such a competitive construction market, contractors struggling for stable work are likely to bid low, but Grove warned that low bids, while enticing, can be very hard for contractors to meet. As the project progresses and costs mount, the low bidder likely will need to submit change orders to cover the difference.

    “They’ll look for loopholes,” Grove said.

    Board member John Schulties said some contractor firms are notorious for their lowball bid tactics and asked Grove how he plans to weed them out.

    “We’ll identify them and make sure there are some prequalification requirements,” Grove responded. “I think it’s just going to be a battle.”

    Grove and Lake Forest’s buildings and grounds supervisor Robert Hart said they should be able to eliminate any unqualified firms since the project, which includes additions to the school’s performing arts and athletic facilities, requires complex electrical work and an overhaul of the building’s sprinkler system.

    Hart said many applicants simply don’t carry sufficient bonding to allow them to take on the project.

    Before the bids are due on Thursday, Feb. 19, Hart and Grove will research the applicants’ bonding and project histories.

    “That’ll cut out a lot of the guys with pick-ups and ladders,” Hart said.

    Major work at the site is to begin after school lets out this year, with completion by fall 2010. Grove said the school building would be without power for up to 10 days during the summer while major electrical work is done.

In other business…

    Business manager Christine daCosta announced her department has begun planning the system’s budget for fiscal year 2010.

    She said she will meet with Lake Forest principals in the coming weeks and asked the board to set its budget priorities for the coming year, which is expected to see severe cuts in state funding.

    “My plan is to make the budget as transparent as it can be so everybody can see all of the money that comes into the system,” she said.

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