City Engineer Lara Biggs described alternative processes the City of Evanston can use to select a contractor for a major capital project. She was speaking at the joint Sixth and Seventh Ward meeting on June 5.

When the City publicizes its guidelines for a project, bids that appear to comply with the guidelines are considered, and staff members assess the bids and typically submit the three lowest bids that appear aligned with the guidelines to City Council for approval.

The second is the RFP process, in which the City publicizes a request for proposals, or RFP. As with submitted bids, City staff assesses the responses to an RFP and then recommends one or more for City Council to select.

No matter which method is used to select a contractor for a City project, problems with costs and timing can arise.

Selecting the Lowest Bid: Fountain Square Project

When the City selects the low bidder, there can be “problems with quality,” Ms. Biggs said.

She mentioned the Fountain Square improvement project, which began in April of last year with an expected completion date of December. Problems with the original contract cost the City several months and close to $200,000.

“Please explain how we got to this point,” said Alderman Tom Suffredin, 6th Ward, at the Jan. 22 City Council meeting. 

At that meeting, Ms. Biggs responded, “When we awarded the contract, we did reference checks” on the general contractor, The contractor checked out and all looked good, she said, but since the moment the project began “we have had issues. … Because of the size of this contract, we really need to have someone full-time observing” the day-to-day progress of the contractor.

The City hired Christopher Burke Engineering to oversee the remainder of the Fountain Square project, and the added cost was $197,906.79. Ms. Biggs said a liquidated damages clause in the contract allowed the City to recover about $64,000.

Ms. Biggs said at the June 5 meeting that the north plaza, with its ground-level fountains, should be operational soon. The veterans’ memorial wall, with names of Evanston veterans etched on glass panels, is being “re-fashioned,” she said. She did not give a date to expect the panels. 

The south plaza is open and being used.

The RFP Process: Robert Crown Center

In response to a request for proposals, the City selected Bulley & Andrews as the contractor. The plan is that Bulley & Andrews will subcontract at least part of the work to Evanston businesses.

John Zbesko, who attended the joint ward meeting, asked why the City has not been more forthcoming about the increasing costs of the new Robert Crown Center. “The [original] $30 million [price tag] included the building but not all the site extras,” Ms. Biggs said.

The current estimate for the entire project is $48 million.

Among those “extras” are the playing fields that will have artificial turf. At the May 29 City Council meeting, a question arose about the safety of certain types of rubber bases uses in artificial turf.

“There are some anecdotal concerns that crumb rubber – made from recycled tires – might not be safe. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is in the process of evaluating the safety of artificial turf.”

Alderman Eleanor Revelle, 7th Ward, said, “California is doing a study. We’re holding off on [the artificial turf] decision. We don’t want to put in anything that is toxic for our kids.”

The new center will have ice rinks, basketball courts, flexible meeting rooms, a large entry that could be adapted to ad-hoc uses, space for early childhood programs and a branch library. The plan is to begin construction in the fall on the northeast corner of Main Street and Dodge Avenue. Once the new building is completed, the present building will be torn down.

Mary Gavin

Mary Gavin is the founder of the Evanston RoundTable. After 23 years as its publisher and manager, she helped transition the RoundTable to nonprofit status in 2021. She continues to write, edit, mentor...