Minority-owned contractors may get a shot at an Arlington senior center project — if delays are avoided
Arlington Council members have reached a compromise that could keep construction on schedule for an active adult center, while ensuring minority business owners get a fair shot at a key contract.
Council members asked city staff on Tuesday to restart and change a key contract bidding process, so long as the do-over does not delay senior center construction scheduled for the end of the year.
Council must put any changes to the bidding process to a formal vote, according to a city spokesperson. However, the discussion gave staff more direction as leaders try to strike a balance between making the contracting process more equitable and building the long-awaited center.
The 68,000-square-foot active adult center is slated to open in late 2024 as the city's largest recreational facility solely dedicated to residents 55 and up. The center was originally set to open by 2022, but encountered delays due to the COVID pandemic, as well as previous councils' debates on moving the building to a more central location.
The delays and discussions about restarting the process frustrated older residents who have been waiting for the center for years. Several emailed council members demanding that the city keep the project moving.
Andrew Piel, District 4 City Council member, said getting the center built is among his constituents' largest concerns.
"Just last night, I was at a meeting in west Arlington where everybody said, 'Is this thing going to open before I die? You better not do anything to delay the opening one more day,'" Piel said.
But council members Barbara Odom-Wesley and Ruby Faye Woolridge have fought for a second look at a process that favored Manhattan Construction Group, a white-owned firm, over Con-Real, the state's largest Black-owned construction and real estate company.
"It's never my goal to delay the project," Odom-Wesley said. "My goal is to ensure it was an equitable process."
Black firms receive less than 1% of the money Arlington spends on contracts per year, according to a September city newsletter. The city last year created a formal program to support firms considered Minority/Women-owned Businesses and Enterprises.
The city is also working through recommendations from the Unity Council report. The 132-page study suggests providing more resources to MWBE firms.
"There is no secret that we have work to do when it comes to our MWBE levels with Black contractors," Mayor Jim Ross said. "We fall way behind."
Residents, however, say the numbers aren't an excuse for the city to delay the project. Elva Roy, president of local group Ambassadors for Aging Well, said she's frustrated by council's decision, which she said may still delay construction.
"Why do we have to keep revisiting and revisiting and revisiting and reevaluating?" Roy asked.
The new process
Council wants to end the process to hire a construction manager who would oversee different aspects of the building process and make changes as needed. The "manager at-risk" also would set a maximum project price, which would have make the business responsible for bearing surplus charges.
Instead of selecting a manager at-risk, the city wants to be in charge of all aspects of the bid process, planning and pricing.
City staff estimates that continuing negotiations with Manhattan Construction for a construction manager-at-risk contract could take one or two months, and restarting the process through a competitive sealed proposal (CSP) would take two months.
Some council members Tuesday worried that restarting and revamping the process might cause more problems than proceeding with Manhattan Construction.
District 5 Council member Rebecca Boxall said she had doubts the decision would not end in more delays.
"I just want it on record that I don't agree with that kind of characterization," she said. "They're very different processes—extremely different."
Victoria Farrar-Myers, District 7 Council member, said she's concerned about the precedent of restarting a process that already met city requirements and opting for a process that could put the city on the hook for additional charges.
"I'm more worried about the city's liability that comes with a CSP," Farrar-Myers said
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