JASPER, Tenn. - Marion County leaders have chosen to bypass the low bidder for the contract to test the construction materials in the technical education center being built along U.S. Highway 41 in Kimball, Tenn.
Last week, the County Commission voted unanimously to accept the $26,950 bid from S&ME in Chattanooga as long as the details of the contract meet the approval of the project's architect.
Terracon in Chattanooga submitted a bid of $22,680, but that company is involved in litigation with South Pittsburg, Tenn. That made some commissioners wary.
"[The board] is not obligated in this situation to go with the low bidder," County Attorney Billy Gouger said. "It's obligated to go with the best bid."
Gouger said Terracon was the soil-testing company involved with South Pittsburg's failed sewer lagoon system. That led to "ongoing [litigation] between multiple parties," he said.
Commissioner Donald Blansett, who is also South Pittsburg's utilities manager, said he would "feel more comfortable" using S&ME for the materials testing, even if it costs more.
Heidi Hefferlin, president of Hefferlin + Kronenberg Architects, said the board shouldn't base its decision on the bid prices anyway, because there is no fixed fee for testing engineers.
"They just tell you they're charging you so much per visit," she said. "These are round numbers. What you end up paying is what they have to do. That's just the fact of the matter, and the way it works out."
There are "slight differences" in the scope of services each company offered in their initial proposals, Gouger said.
Terracon included masonry testing and "special inspections" that are not covered in S&ME's bid, he said.
Those special inspections are required under Chapter 17 of the International Building Code, Gouger said.
"Those inspections are specifically excluded from S&ME's contract," he said.
Hefferlin said her company has never had a problem with either Terracon or S&ME, and she has "100 percent confidence" in S&ME based on her company's past dealings with the firm.
"In terms of scope, I must say it concerns me that S&ME does not have structural steel [testing] in their [contract bid]," she said. "International building code requires that your structural steel and your masonry are tested, and I don't know why that's not there."
Hefferlin said she can "work out the details" for the contract before it is signed by County Mayor John Graham.
Ryan Lewis is based in Marion County. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.