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Wisconsin contractors miss cut for courthouse bid

By James Briggs

A prominent Wisconsin construction company wants to know why it was deemed unqualified to perform restoration work on the Kenosha County Courthouse.

J.P. Cullen & Sons Inc., Janesville, was among four Wisconsin contractors that failed to make the cut on a request for qualification issued by Madison-based InSite Consulting Architects for the $5.5 million project. The others are Milwaukee-based Arteaga Construction Inc. as well as Kenosha contractors Camosy Construction Co. Inc. and Riley Construction Co. Inc.

The three companies that earned the right to bid for the project Dec. 10 — Bulley & Andrews Masonry Restoration LLC, Berglund Construction Co. and Mark 1 Restoration Co. — are in or near Chicago.

“We have had the opportunity to do restoration on the Milwaukee City Hall and the state Capitol,” said Kendall McWilliams, Cullen’s director of business development. “To not be qualified for another project of restoration-type construction, that surprised us.”

Cullen has requested more information from Kenosha County to learn why the contractor won’t be able to bid on the project.

“The only difference I would see is the type of material,” McWilliams said. “The Kenosha County Courthouse is a limestone building. The state Capitol is granite. Milwaukee City Hall is terra cotta.

“We have done limestone projects, just not to the scale of the City Hall or state Capitol.”

InSite President Steve Mar-Pohl, who was part of the selection process, said he had been directed by the county to refer all questions to Public Works Director Ray Arbet. When a reporter from The Daily Reporter tried to ask a question, Mar-Pohl interjected, saying, “I’d like to wish you a good day and a happy holiday,” and then hung up.

InSite has an office in Chicago and has worked with Berglund Construction on past projects.

Arbet said Cullen, even with its extensive experience, lacked a background specific to the work slated for the courthouse.

Cullen’s Capitol restoration, Arbet said, “was essentially an interior restoration project. The way we understand it, there was some cleaning of the exterior, but nothing like the project we’ve got planned.”

The courthouse project, Arbet said, involves removal of 12,000 blocks.

“The exterior of the building literally is going to be disassembled block-by-block,” he said. “Every block has to be physically touched and examined. It’s a very specialized process, and we wanted firms that do this stuff day in and day out.”

The three Chicago contractors fit that bill, said Carol O’Neal, director of purchasing services for Kenosha County.

“That’s pretty much all they do,” she said. “We wanted to make sure we had companies with sufficient expertise to carry out this project, so we don’t have to come back in 15 to 20 years and do it again.”

Jim Boullion, director of government affairs for Associated General Contractors of Wisconsin, said he thinks a top-notch Wisconsin contractor at least should have a shot at such projects.

“It’s just a little frustrating that in this economy, a contractor like J.P. Cullen isn’t even qualified to bid,” Boullion said. “Whoever gets the project doesn’t really matter to us. It just seems unusual they wouldn’t be qualified.”

Matt Prince, Riley Construction’s vice president of operations, said he isn’t upset about missing the cut. Riley is working on Kenosha County’s public safety building.

“They’re a great customer,” Prince said. “You can’t win ‘em all, as far as I’m concerned.”

Prince did, though, express frustration over the lack of reciprocation on construction work between Wisconsin and Illinois.

“There are restrictions on us doing government work down in Illinois, but you turn around and bring them up here,” he said. “That bothers me.”

An Illinois law requires contractors on public projects use a work force of at least 90 percent Illinois residents when unemployment reaches 5 percent for two months in a row. There is no such law in Wisconsin.

“Not having one Wisconsin firm qualified,” McWilliams said, “should be alarming to a lot of people.”

But, he said, he wants more information from Kenosha County so the contractor can prepare for future projects.

“There’s going to be more restoration work to be done there,” McWilliams said. “We want to know why, so if we could have done something different to get qualified, we would make those adjustments.”

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