School skips bid policy for irrigation project



BAR HARBOR — Mount Desert Island High School Principal Matt Haney was so eager to get irrigation systems installed on the football field, known as Alumni Field, and the practice field this summer that he failed to follow the school system policy on putting the project out for bid, he told the high school board Monday night.

“Those fields, the more it didn’t rain this summer, were really getting to be unsafe,” he said.

Since the irrigation systems were put in, he said, “It’s been incredible; it’s much safer and much more useable. It’s really been a great project, and people appreciate it. Both fields get a lot of use by youth sports.”

Haney said the school used local contractors who have done work for the school in the past.

“What we neglected to do was put the project out to bid,” he said. “We didn’t skip that process on purpose; it just slipped …

“[We thought], here are the people who do this; here are the people who do it well; this is what it’s going to cost; we have the money [in the budget]; let’s do it.”

The high school paid Williams Irrigation Systems about $45,000 and Hodgdon-Tyler Landscaping about $95,000 to replace the sod.

Haney told the school board that if the project had gone out to bid, it’s very likely that the contractors he used would have submitted the lowest bids. “So, in the end, we would up where we would have been,” he said. “But in the future we’re going to pay very close attention to make sure that on a project like that we go through the sealed bid process.”

Superintendent Marc Gousse said, “At the end of the day, the buck stops with me. There’s absolutely no excuse for not going out to bid. Our policies are pretty clear on that.”

Gousse said Nancy Thurlow, the school system’s business manager, caught the oversight when the invoices for the project came in, and she brought it to his attention.

He said a manual on how to handle financial matters was already being developed for administrators and others in the school system who are involved in purchasing.

“That was in the queue, but this [incident] is absolutely an example of why we need it,” he said. “And we will be providing training for our folks on what our financial policies and procedures are. We need to make sure that the process that is embedded in policy is what we actually do.”

The school system’s policy on bidding and purchasing states that, in cases where competitive bidding is not required, the superintendent may solicit a request for proposals (RFP) for projects of more than $2,500.

It further states, “The superintendent may forego the competitive bid or RFP process … when he/she determines that quality, expertise, time factors or other considerations outweigh the possible benefits of bidding or requesting proposals.”

“In this instance, I would have done that,” Gousse said, “but the next sentence [in the policy] is the most important.”

That sentence reads, “In each such case, the board shall be informed of the superintendent’s decision and the reasons for it in advance of entering into a contract.”

“In this case, half the work had been done,” before the oversight was discovered, Gousse said.

A few high school board members expressed concern that the policy was not followed.

“I think we’ve made moves to rectify this,” board chairman Ingrid Kachmar said, referring to the financial policy manual that is being developed and the training that is being planned.

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