A rendering of a new fire station that will be built on the east side of Desert Hot Springs.
Desert Hot Springs approved the construction contract for a new fire station on the city’s east side. (Rendering courtesy of Desert Hot Springs)

The Desert Hot Springs City Council Tuesday awarded a nearly $8.9 million contract to Oakview Constructors, Inc., for the construction of a new fire station on the city’s east side.

“This has been a project that I’ve championed for our fire department for a long time,” Mayor Scott Matas said. “It’s not just [that] [Riverside County Fire Division Chief Bryan White] wants to bring more staff here and put people to work, but he wants people to be safe in our community and that fire station is so far overdue.”

City staff had originally recommended Robert Clapper Construction Services, Inc., after it felt that Oakview had not properly acknowledged the two addendums to the city’s request for bids.

“The city of Desert Hot Springs received a letter of protest and objection from Oakview Construction,” Nicholas Haecker, public works director, said. “Oakview believes their bid was responsive to the request for the bids and that there is no reason for the city to reject Oakview’s bid.”

After reviewing the bid, staff found that Oakview did, in fact, have the acknowledgement of the addendums in the bid, but that it was not clearly stated as required. However, since all parts of the bid were indeed included, staff decided to recommend Oakview’s bid, which was $500,000 less than the bid submitted by Robert Clapper.

“We came out to make sure everybody was comfortable with us, you know, and we’re here to stand behind our bid and to guarantee the contract, make sure that you guys are comfortable with it,” Ken Coates, Oakview bond agent, said. “If you have any concerns, then this is the time to talk about it, but we have no concerns on our end.”

However, Matthew Kraus, attorney for Robert Clapper, said that if the city was not going to go back to its initial recommendation, it should re-bid the project to ensure that all bidders were aware of what was needed in the bid package and to ensure there was no ambiguity in the bid process.

“It’s important for [Robert Clapper] to have an opportunity to know, just like all the other bidders and the public needs to know, that the city’s applying the rules clearly, the bids are clear, everybody’s on the same page, it’s a level playing field and that there’s integrity in the bidding process,” he said.

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Councilmember Gary Gardner said he was inclined to agree with Kraus and said that he would like to see the project go back out for bid, just so there was no question about the bid evaluation process.

“I love to save $500,000,” he said. “But in the sense of equity and fairness, I’m inclined to go back to see if we can reopen, just just resubmit the bid process again, and reevaluate everything so that everybody’s on the same page.”

City Manager Frank Luckino said the submissions were consistent with the document and that, while it would be appropriate for the council to award the project, he said he understood if the council decided to re-bid it — a process he said would take about two months.

Despite Gardner’s concerns, the rest of the council said they trusted that city staff had done its due diligence to ensure the process was fair and legal.

“I’m very comfortable with staff’s recommendation, I’m trusting that they got this right,” Councilmember Russell Betts said. “They didn’t just, you know, say on a whim that they’ve changed this.”

Before making the motion to adopt the amended recommendation, Matas said that he too was confident in the work done by city staff to bring a recommendation to council, even though he said he understood Klaus’ position.

And though the motion passed unanimously, Gardner said he still had concerns.

“I’m going to support this in the sake of moving it forward, I recognize that we’ve been working on this for a long time,” he said. “I am still concerned about the integrity aspect of this, and I’m going to hope that staff has fixed that problem so that we don’t run into this in the future.”

The council also approved an overall budget of $9.4 million for the new fire station, which includes the construction as well as the cost of construction management, furniture, fixtures and equipment.

In other council action: The Desert Hot Springs City Council voted to allow city staff to negotiate a deal with Animal Samaritans to operate the animal hospital at 13700 Palm Drive. It’s estimated that the facility will be operational in September of this year.

A full recording of the meeting can be found here on the city’s YouTube channel.

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Alicia Ramirez is the publisher of TN News and the founder and CEO of its parent company TN News.