Builders say school construction bill favors some firms

Posted: Tuesday, April 18, 2000

JUNEAU - Some builders, architects and designers are scrambling to erect a barrier in front of a bill they say was custom-built to steer the state's rural school construction projects to one or two companies.

House Bill 445, which surfaced in the House Finance Committee last week, would award all rural school construction projects to developers who meet what critics say is a restrictive list of qualifications.

Bidders would need experience in: ``being a turnkey developer; completing projects in rural Alaska; development of schools; financial matters; facility management and maintenance.''

Though it's called a pilot program, the measure would cover all rural school construction projects for the fiscal year that begins July 1.

The latest bond bill being considered by the Legislature holds nearly $100 million in rural school projects, said Finance Committee Co-Chairman Eldon Mulder, an Anchorage Republican.

Mulder and other backers said HB 445 would save the state money by consolidating work and is not a special deal for anyone. Ideally, one developer would oversee a whole project, making all the companies involved work more efficiently, he said.

``The focus is to build more buildings with the same amount of money,'' Mulder said.

But an assortment of architects, builders and others said the bill's strict criteria would push out most firms.

``It appears as though only one or two companies would have the full range of requirements that the bill specifies,'' said Sam Kito III of the Alaska Professional Design Council, a trade association.

Rep. Eric Croft, an Anchorage Democrat, criticized the measure as ``trying to sole-source the biggest school construction year in the last eight years.''

Mulder pulled the bill from the House floor Saturday. Groups concerned with the bill still have a chance to ``come up with compromise language,'' Mulder said. But if they fail, he said the bill will go forward.

Kito said he wanted the bill killed so opponents can take more time to craft a fair measure.

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