Education

Iowa lawmakers again air bill to govern university bidding, building

Regents disagree, say current method saves money, time

Rep. Bobby Kaufmann

R-Wilton
Rep. Bobby Kaufmann R-Wilton
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Lawmakers who for years have been trying to reel in Board of Regents construction practices that skip a step in the traditional design-bid-build process once again have pitched legislation that would require regents to add the step back in.

This session’s iteration of the bill — backed by Rep. Ashley Hinson, R-Marion, and sponsored by Rep. Bobby Kaufmann, R-Wilton — would expand rules governing regent projects valued at more than $100,000 by increasing advertising requirements and mandating engineers or architects prepare plans and cost estimates that are then distributed to prospective bidders.

If, after taking those steps, the Board of Regents finds all bids unacceptable, instead of promptly proceeding to an alternative method of its choosing — as is currently allowed — the board would have to report a “specific finding identifying the basis of the rejection of each bid received.”

“The debate over the years has been whether contracts for buildings in regards to the University of Iowa and others are fairly bid, or whether there are other things going on,” Kaufmann said, reporting people have shared concerns that “this is taxpayer money, and it’s critical that no one has an inside track.”

Although Kaufmann said he isn’t taking sides on the “competitive-bidding bill” and only sponsored it to allow for debate and discussion, he has heard from more who support its aim to ensure every interested bidder knows about available projects and has the chance to vie for them.

The traditional project delivery method across Board of Regents campuses had been design-bid-build — involving the engineer or architect plans and cost estimates, which are then advertised to prospective bidders.

Design-build, which the universities have used with greater frequency of late, grants a single contract to one company charged with both designing and building a given project.

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Design-build backers say it trims costs, improves efficiency, and increases the speed from project start to finish. Opponents say it limits competition and isn’t appropriate for publicly funded institutions.

Some lawmakers previously have accused the board of violating state law in its use of design-build, and regents for years tried to change the law to explicitly allow its public universities to use alternative building methods.

Failing to do so, the board in 2012 decided current law already permits design-build — in that the Board of Regents is exempt from the portion of Iowa Code regulating competitive bidding for public projects.

New legislation being considered this year again makes explicit allowances for alternative project delivery methods. Regents spokesman Josh Lehman said the board supports that measure and stands firmly by its past use of design-build.

“The board has successfully utilized alternative delivery construction methods such as design-build in the past,” he said in an email. “We believe strongly that these methods used for appropriate projects can deliver these projects more efficiently, thus saving students and taxpayers significant dollars.”

The regents have employed design-build for nine projects to date — five on the University of Iowa campus and four at Iowa State University. Design-build projects include an $11.8 million addition to the Hawkeye Tennis and Recreation Complex and the UI’s 12-story, $95 million Elizabeth Catlett Residence Hall.

The bill the board opposes — to restrict design-build — passed out of a state government subcommittee this week and is headed for full committee consideration in a week or two, according to Kaufmann.

l Comments: (319) 339-3158; vanessa.miller@thegazette.com

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