A critical issue Freeholders delay replacing key parts to prison air-conditioning

The purchase and installation of three critical cooling units for The Hudson County Correctional Facility in Kearny, the county psychiatric facility in Secaucus and the Youth Detention Center in Secaucus may be held up because of a possible misunderstanding in bid specifications.

Freeholder Bill O’Dea asked the Board of Freeholders to hold up on rescinding a contract that was awarded last November so that a committee of the board could look more closely at the details.

According to Darren Maloney, director of the county’s finance department, the specifications sent out to bidders on the contract were so unclear that the lower bidder, One Source Energy Services of Edison, actually thought it was bidding on two units instead of three.

The units, which act as a kind of compressor or cooling device for the air conditioning systems in the three county facilities, cost slightly over $20,000, and Maloney said the difference in the bidding showed a big gap between this bid and the others. County Administrator Abe Antun said the contract was awarded, but the confusion was not uncovered until the county sent the work order to the company. Antun said the company asked to get out of the contract, and the county would rebid the project.

O’Dea, however, said rebidding the project could give One Source a competitive advantage in bidding now that the bids of other companies were disclosed. He also said the higher prices may have made One Source think twice about the low cost of its bid and sought to get out of the contract.

If the company bids again, O’Dea said, it now knows it can bid higher and still get the contract.

William Northgrave, counsel for the county executive, cautions freeholders about saying too much in public, because the issue could fall over into areas that could involve litigation in the future. But he did dispute O’Dea claiming that all the companies now involved in the process know what each other bid, giving no one an advantage.

“Maybe everyone will sharpen their pencils and come up with a better price,” he said.

Northgrave said the county had the power to hold the company to the contract, thus getting the benefit of the lower price even if the company intended to bid on two units instead of three. But Northgrave said this could lead to enforcement problems in which the company would have little incentive to do a good job on the project.

Mariano Vega, Public Safety commissioner for the county, said the units were vital because of the “closed” nature of prisons. Like many modern business buildings, the three facilities rely on venting systems to circulate air through the buildings, because windows either do not open or cannot supply enough air to every part of the buildings.

Hot place

If the air goes bad, so does the morale of the inmates, Mariano Vega said, which could lead to trouble. Since no backups are currently in place, if the existing units should fail in any one of three institutions, the county could see problems. He urged the freeholders to move quickly.

O’Dea, however, questioned how urgent the problem is if it took more than three months to come back before the board. Freeholder Brian Stack, in supporting O’Dea’s call for a review, agreed that if the matter had waited this long it could wait until the bid specifications were more closely examined.

Freeholder Chairman Sal Vega said one of the legal issues involved may be what responsibility bidders have in understanding the specifications. O’Dea made the point even clearer saying that if all the other bidders on the project understood that the county bid called for three units. Why, he asked, did this one bidder misread the bid specifications?

In other matters, the freeholders also agreed to table a professional service contract that would have named Dean Marchetto & Associates, a Hoboken firm, as backup architects for the county’s Home Rental Housing Production program, an affordable housing program.

Freeholder Maurice Fitzgibbons said he had some concern about the firm and possible conflicts of interest. He said that the firm took on the county’s work at Columbus Park in Hoboken, but when the county and the city were arguing about the project, it was hard to determine which side Marchetto was on because the firm also represents the city of Hoboken. Representing both entities is not a legal conflict, but Fitzgibbons said he’d want to know who else Marchetto represents before voting to award the contract.


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