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Judge halts work on Capitol Complex security project

A Kanawha County judge agreed Monday to halt work on a Capitol Complex security upgrade while a contractor sues over not being awarded the project, despite being the low bidder.

After strong objections from attorneys for the state, work will stop on the $3.4 million project until Circuit Judge Joanna Tabit decides whether Wiseman Construction was appropriately awarded a bid to install a security fence around the Governor’s Mansion and convert two parking lots north of the state Culture Center into a bus turnaround.

At a hearing Thursday, McClanahan Construction of Poca will try to prove it should have been awarded the project. McClanahan was the lowest of three bidders for the project, at $3 million, but was disqualified for submitting a nonconforming bid, on the grounds it indicated it could not comply with a 120-day deadline to complete the project.

McClanahan said its materials supplier was citing a six-month to one-year backlog in obtaining limestone veneer required for the project.

On July 31, the contract was awarded to Wiseman Construction, the next-lowest bidder at $3.04 million. In a protest filed on Aug. 5 -- which has been denied -- McClanahan contended Wiseman’s bid cited the same limestone supplier as a subcontractor — Metro Masonry of Barboursville.

Wiseman responded that it found an alternate limestone provider from Indiana. John Philip Melick, McClanahan’s attorney, however, objected that state Purchasing officials relied on a letter from Wiseman that was dated one day after McClanahan filed its protest.

On Monday, Senior Deputy Attorney General Kelli Talbott and an attorney for Wiseman, James Cagle, argued that Wiseman had already entered its second phase of work on the project. Stopping work -- even between only Monday and Thursday -- would cause irreparable harm, they told the judge.

“Time is of the essence,” Talbott said. State officials want the project to be completed before next year’s Legislative session, arguing its a security matter.

The judge agreed with Melick, though, that the project could be temporarily placed on hold.

“I don’t dispute that it’s needed, but the state certainly hasn’t had [the fencing] in my lifetime,” Tabit said.

Melick said Wiseman proceeded with the project knowing McClanahan’s objections and planned court action.

“They elected to jump in with both feet,” Melick said.

He added he doesn’t believe Wiseman was given proper notice from the state to begin the project, pointing to the notice a company was given to begin work on the West Virginia Lottery building renovation project.

Talbott and Cagle said that case had nothing to do with this one and Military Affairs and Public Safety spokesman Lawrence Messina previously said that Wiseman had been given notice to proceed.

“The Division of Protective Services considers the July 31 notice of award to also serve as the notice to proceed,” he said.

Attorneys for Wiseman and the state asked that Tabit at least increase the bond McClanahan had to pay to protest the project. They asked that the $30,000 already in place be increased to $3 million, the total cost of the project. Bonds are usually put in place to discourage frivolous filings.

Tabit raised the bond to $300,000.

Reach Kate White at kate.white@wvgazette.com, 304-348-1723 or @KateLWhite on Twitter.

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