The Española City Council at its Jan. 12 meeting approved a $687,491.07 capital outlay expense to add an additional 1,600 square feet of climate-controlled storage to the fire station at 405 N. Paseo de Oñate. The storage is necessary to protect the department’s ladder truck , which is currently left outside, from theft and the elements. Disagreement about the cost and procurement methods led to a heated discussion and a split council, with three councilors voting against the expense.
City Grants Administrator Diahann Jacquez presented the proposal.
“This is for the plan, design and construction of the fire station storage addition,” she said. “These facility improvements will allow additional storage space for the ladder truck and other apparatus that the fire department uses that is not currently housed under sheltered facility.”
The state requires that such equipment be kept in storage. The city has been working with an Albuquerque company, Facility Build, to design and build the structure. Plans to build such a facility have been in the works since the department acquired the ladder truck in July 2019.
At a July 16, 2019 public works committee meeting General Services Director Jeff Sargent said he had met with Facility Build and that they needed a letter of intent to continue with the expansion project. At that time, Councilor Peggy Sue Martinez objected to using the company, preferring to put out a request for proposals and go through a bid process. An unsigned document on the city website dated Dec. 7, 2019 explains the drawbacks of going with a bid process and the pros of going forward with Facility Build for the project.
Councilor Justin Salazar-Torres quickly moved to approve the motion at the recent meeting, with a second by Councilor Manny Martinez.
Peggy Sue Martinez asked the first question in discussion.
“Ms. Jacquez, when you say plan, design, engineer and build, the one company is responsible for all phases of that?” she said.
“Yes, yes ma’am they are,” Jacquez said. “With Facility Build, once they complete design, let’s say for conversation purposes the city chooses not to have them construct the building, then we would be responsible for paying them for design and engineer services because we will have stamped plans at that point.”
Peggy Sue Martinez questioned the use of Facility Build for all facets of the project.
“So, that’s my question, when you have one company doing steps one, two and three,” she said in reply. “Normally the city of Española would talk to an engineering firm that we have on contract, we would ask them to come and engineer what we’re looking at or what we need, then they would give us the plans with the cost analysis.
“That cost analysis is, what I believe, is very important because that will tell you what we should be paying for this facility,” Martinez said. “Without a cost analysis from an engineering firm you’re left to allow that company to figure out what we want and how much they can make on it.”
The cost of the building was estimated, by her back-of-the-envelope calculations, to be about $400 per square foot, which she considered to be very expensive.
“The way that this is presented on our agenda I also have an issue with, I mean you’re not telling me at all what we’re paying for, you’re just giving me the design,” Peggy Sue Martinez said. “There’s no breakdown of it, there’s very little information in our packet concerning what this is.”
Peggy Sue Martinez raised further issues with the procurement process, saying that there was a chance Española contractors weren’t given a fair enough shot at the project.
“The RFP (Request for Proposal) was written out to Jeff Sargent, which, nothing against Mr. Sargent, we appreciate everything he does for the city, but I don’t believe he’s a certified procurement officer,” Peggy Sue Martinez said. “I mean I really feel like we need to be using our procurement department, we need to get the best deal we can.
“Gosh, can you imagine if you’re a contractor in the city of Española, and you didn’t even get an opportunity to bid this out? I’m sure there’s plenty of contractors that have not had work during this COVID situation that would have jumped on this, and that money could have stayed in our community.”
Jeff Sargent responded to explain the technical reasons behind the high cost.
“We did get a soils report by GeoTest, who is an independent firm that we did pay to get this work accomplished, and what they found is, the core materials underneath where we would be building this 1,600 square foot expansion does need some work based on the soils report,” he said. “It is not stable enough to support a building that will be heated, plumbed and concrete work completed with access doors and accessibility for our staffing.
“That is all the information I have at this point,” Sargent said. “I have been working Facility Build and we did do an agreement with them during the last year, that we would be going through their services but we do have the option that if we did not go with their recommendation for the construction phase, that we would have to pay I believe 3 to 6 percent for their services and at that point we could go out to bid.”
According to Sargent, the city had the cost breakdown and soil report in August 2020. Moving forward on the project sooner was delayed due to uncertainties around funding. Sargent apologized for not including that information in the packet and suggested tabling the measure until the next meeting.
Mayor Javier Sanchez interceded.
“I think this is still a proper protocol,” the mayor said. “I wouldn’t want to say that this isn’t in any way. I would also entertain the fact that these (agenda packet materials) are engineering specs and the pricing is included, and it does have the pricing for everything that we would be getting. So I’m not fully convinced that this packet doesn’t have all the information we need.”
Councilor John Ricci pointed to previous meetings where the council had agreed to contract with Facility Build to do the design with the understanding that the company would be completing the build unless the design was unsatisfactory.
Peggy Sue Martinez said she had a different recollection of the agreement.
“I-I-I disagree with you respectfully, Mr. Ricci,” she said “I feel like we agreed that we would go with design and then we would look at what they designed and go from that point forward. I’ve never felt like we agreed that we would go ahead and allow somebody to design it and give us whatever price.
“At that point, we didn’t know it was going to cost $647,000,” Peggy Sue Martinez said. “You’re talking about three-quarter of a million dollars on this situation for 1,600 square feet. I’m sure that could be built for relatively cheaper to be honest with you.
“I’m not happy with the way this was presented—”
At this point, the councilor was cut off by the mayor, who yielded the floor to Jeff Sargent who was indicating that he wanted to speak.
“One of the main reasons that we had decided to go with Facility Build was due to the fact that we had had numerous issues with some of our contracted engineers that we had at the time,” Sargent said. “The one was Wilson and Company, I’ll just put that out there. We had numerous issues with them for the city hall expansion and for the project up on Industrial Park Road for the sportsplex, that’s why we had, I had been given direction at that time to look for another option.”
“When you do finally get somebody who responds and actually goes through the work of giving you the specs, engineering and everything else and is ready to start work, you kind of just let them in the door to get started and get working on what needs to happen,” he said.
There was a motion to table the proposal from Councilor John Ramon Vigil to allow the council to receive more information on the construction, which failed by a 4-3 margin. The following motion to approve the proposal was approved by the same margin, with councilors Peggy Sue Martinez, Denise Benavidez and John Ramon Vigil voting against.