By CAROL GORGA WILLIAMS
Asbury Park officials, with confessed mixed emotions, voted 3 to 2 to keep Wallace Brothers of Brick Township as the designated “responsible low bidder” to construct the new $18 million city fire headquarters.
But those who voted in favor of retaining the company said they only did so to keep the much delayed project, which is desperately needed, on schedule.
“I’m just hoping for the best,” Mayor John B. Moor said. “Many sets of eyes are going to be on this project as it moves forward.”
Fire Chief Kevin Keddy said he was glad there was no delay. Officials had been concerned that if they rescinded the bid, litigation would have resulted.
His sentiments were echoed by Fred Bates, president of firefighters Local 384,
“By law, we have to go with a low bidder,” Deputy Mayor Amy Quinn said. “…I think he came to the public hearing and answered questions nebulously.”
Quinn and City Councilwoman Angela Abez-Anderson voted against using Wallace.
At issue is the differing interpretations between the words “debt” and “dispute.” Under the contract, you must report to the municipality any debt you owe beyond 60 days. Wallace – who had such debts – did not report them because he contended they were in fact “disputes’ ‘, that the clock did not start until the job was completed. He also failed to report his company’s status regarding liens. He said his company had “mechanics liens’ against it but he did not consider that meaningful because “mechanics liens’ are common.
Steve Wallace, president of Wallace Bros., contended if he delayed paying subcontractors, it was because the work was inferior or the material was so and the subcontractors had to correct their deficiencies before they should expect to be paid.
“I don’t believe I owe any money until they finish their jobs,” Wallace said.
He said 15 years ago, he built a firehouse for Lakewood and recently renovated it to increase its size. He said there were no complaints. He cited work his company did for the borough of Mantoloking and the Ocean County Vocational School as proof of a job his clients considered well done.
It was members of labor unions and other bidders who called discrepancies to the attention of the council.
“We believe Wallace intentionally misrepresented ” his background, said Nicole Vecchione, director of research for Laborers Local 77.
Moor and Councilwomen Eileen Chapman and Yvonne Clayton voted to continue the contract but they did so without enthusiasm. Clayton thought Wallace was being obtuse when he answered her questions.
In the real world, so to speak, “If you lie on your application and you are discovered, you are going to be terminated,” she said.
“I asked specific questions about debts and I got answers that were laughable,” Chapman said. “In good conscience, I can’t support delaying this application. For the sake of the city,” Chapman moved it forward with Wallace as the contractor. “We absolutely need a firehouse.”
The low bid was among 10 bids evaluated by officials, many of which contained alternates and substitutes. Moor said at the time the city was limited to about $18 million for the new construction that is to replace a more than century-old fire station that has been structurally unsound and vermin and mold infested. While city officials have talked about building a new fire department headquarters for decades, awarding the bid was the closest the city has ever gotten to realizing that goal.
Bids were sent out with alternatives and several deductions to give the city options and it was a bid from Wallace Bros, Inc. that deletes a fire tower – which was estimated to cost $1,079,000 and a community room that had a $707,000 price tag that council approved.
The total bid is $18,084,000. The city previously had bonded for the construction. The new firehouse will be built on city-owned property across Memorial Drive from City Hall. Because of that, there was no cost for land acquisition.