Representatives of a Northland area company are protesting the Park Hill School District’s choice of a door contractor for new construction, claiming the district is paying about $180,000 more than needed.
Two representatives of JPI Glass, located in Kansas City and Platte County, have attended the last two Park Hill Board of Education meetings to complain that the district refused to consider alternatives to Special Lite, a glass door provider headquartered in Michigan, which Park Hill has used for the past several years. The project in question is a $3.5 million support service warehouse center, the latest in the growing district’s new construction projects.
Jim Plunkett, owner and founder of JPI Glass, a local installer and glazer, said the district could save if they chose another supplier. Plunkett, whose company has installed glass products in various school districts and currently is installing products in a new Park Hill middle school, presented the information during a meeting with assistant superintendent Paul Kelly and at a recent Park Hill School Board meeting.
JPI was not considered for the warehouse construction project because it did not follow protocol by first submitting a primary bid from Special Lite., the district’s preferred provider, then following with a bid from an alternate company, Kelly said.
Park Hill, as other school districts, must guard against using a product that costs less at the expense of quality, Kelly said.
“Employees have experience with the manufacturer…and we have a track record with them and know what we’re getting,” he said.
In addition, time constraints prohibit the district from constantly researching myriad suppliers for new construction projects that include everything from heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems to door knobs and light fixtures.
“We’re talking about hundreds of products,” he said. “This is not just a door issue.”
Kelly also said the time to introduce other contractors is earlier in the process, not at a school board meeting in which members are casting final votes to approve construction projects.
JPI officials object to the following wording in specifications for the project: “at the request of the owner, (Park Hill School District), substitutions for this product are not permitted,” the document reads.
A spokesperson for the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) said the district’s use of an exclusive company’s bid is within the law. While DESE does not have a written policy on bids, a state statute addresses the issue: “No bids shall be entertained by the school district which are not made in accordance with the specifications furnished by the district.”
Plunkett said he attended an earlier school board meeting and spoke with Kelly and explained that his company submitted a lone bid for another supplier because it offered a huge cost savings.
He said because of the district’s exclusivity, Special Lite can get a higher price for their doors due to lack of competition, which is what he believes has happened. Plunkett said his dispute isn’t about his company losing the bid.
“This project would represent one percent of my revenue for the entire year,” Plunkett said during a telephone interview. “The outcome of this project doesn’t affect JPI whatsoever. In addition, nothing prohibits JPI, which has been in business here for the past 32 years, from using the district’s preferred provider.”
Kelly said he wondered if JPI’s motive stemmed from an inability by the company to use Special Lite, for a reason unknown to him. But, Plunkett said his company is free to use Special Lite.
“I can buy a Special Lite door,” he said. “But, as a taxpayer, I’m outraged the school district protects the supplier and doesn’t allow for competition. We wanted the people (taxpayers) to know what they are paying.”
Ironically, the planned new building is located near JPI’s office and company officials have a vested interest in keeping costs low because they pay taxes to the district.
A JPI estimator calculated the district is overpaying by about $6,000 for each of the approximately 35 doors to be installed, Plunkett said.
Jerry Anesi, a JPI estimator, said he attended the last school board meeting and reiterated Plunkett’s concerns about cost. He said JPI suggested using Kawneer, also a longtime supplier of aluminum doors. JPI has worked with Kawneer on several area school district projects. He said cost savings occur because Kawneer allows for a discount on bundling products, such as doors and the frames into which they are mounted. Anesi said he believes Park Hill’s use of Special Lite is based on ease.
“It’s just kind of lazy complacency,” Anesi said, adding that the district’s maintenance director told the school board at the last meeting that during his long tenure with the district, they always had used Special Lite.
But, Anesi said Kawneer provides a viable alternative to Special Lite.
“We’re not proposing they go with some fly-by-night company,” Anesi said.
Kelly said school districts use well-established methods for ensuring products used in new construction are solid. That includes not only relying on experience, but recommendations, both positive and negative, from other districts.
“There’s been no chatter on this (Special Light) from anyone other than this company (JPI),” Kelly said.
He added that the disagreement lies in differing objectives.
“Their motive (manufacturers) is to sell their product and they want exposure,” Kelly said. “We’re looking at total cost of ownership,” he said, adding that the district must consider many issues before awarding bids, including overall quality, longevity and the cost of repairs or replacement on products that are not as reliable.
Kelly admits district bidding processes can be frustrating, especially for new companies that are struggling to create name recognition. But Anesi said their recommendation of Kawneer is a well-trusted company with a long history in the area.
Because JPI installs doors and windows in many school district construction projects, the company is well versed in which local contractors do the best work, Plunkett said. That’s why the company supplied Park Hill with a list of area door and window manufacturers used by other area school districts.