It's the kind of decision that can be lost in the shuffle of more flashy public policy discussions, but the decision last week by leadership at Harford Community College to reject eight bids on a major construction project is the kind of thing more public-funded enterprises should do more regularly.
In this instance, the college budgeted $17.423 million for construction of a new building for the Nursing and Allied Health program at the school. Nursing is, and long has been, a cornerstone of community college offerings, particularly at Harford, so it makes perfect sense that HCC would be growing to accommodate such a program. There's also the reality that the demand for nurses is great, even in a weak economy, so it's good policy on the part of the school to expand nursing program opportunities as much as it can. A nursing building is a good move for accomplishing both ensuring the future of a long-standing mainstay and expanding it at a time when need is great.
While timing in this project is important, to some degree, it isn't everything and when a substantial number of bids come in higher than the anticipated costs, something is clearly askew.
A number of issues could be at play. The bidders could all regard the project as one they don't need to secure, unless the price is high, though that seems unlikely considering eight companies were in the running and the demand for construction isn't particularly strong.
It could also be that the college did a weak job of estimating the cost of construction, though the school has managed some major projects over the past few years, not the least of which was the new APGFCU Arena.
The disconnect could lie somewhere else entirely, but clearly there's a disconnect.
There have been instances over the years when one or another local government simply accepts bids that come in over what is budgeted and then makes moves to allocate more money.
It may come to pass that Harford Community College ends up with a selection of high bids again in the next round, but it may also be that the message is clearly sent that the school won't be moving quickly to accept high bids.
It would be good to see a bit more of this level of scrutiny going into more construction projects. While there are plenty of variables in calculating construction costs, there are plenty of people well-versed in those variables working for our government and quasi-government entities and their estimates are worth taking seriously, both by the public and by those bidding on the work.