Carrie Rengers

City selects ballpark design-build group; competing bidder questions qualifications

The Wichita City Council hasn’t officially approved a design-build team for the city’s new $75 million Minor League ballpark, but there’s already been a protest over the recommended group.

On Tuesday, the Council will vote on a selection committee’s recommendation of Kansas City, Mo.-based JE Dunn Construction, which is teaming with Overland Park-based DLR Group and three Wichita companies: Schaefer Johnson Cox Frey Architecture, Professional Engineering Consultants and Eby Construction.

At issue in a protest by a competing team is whether the JE Dunn team meets a key requirement to be selected, which is that it has built at least three similar Major or Minor League ballparks.

There were three groups that bid on the project, including a team comprised of California-based AECOM Hunt, Kansas City-based Populous and Wichita firms Dondlinger Construction and GLMV Architecture, which is the team that filed the protest.

The third is Michigan-based Barton Malow, Dallas-based HKS Architects and Wichita-based Jaco General Contractor and WDM Architects.

In a Nov. 19 letter to the city’s contract compliance officer, Dondlinger vice president of commercial construction Troy Kapels questioned if the JE Dunn team has built at least three Major or Minor League ballparks.

Kapels, who didn’t return calls for comment, noted in the letter that the city’s request for proposals on the ballpark stipulated that teams “must have experience in the construction” of those professional ballparks.

“Our team requests the City provide documentation to our team that the JE Dunn Construction team met the experience requirements for the complete contracted services of such work,” Kapels wrote, emphasizing words the request for proposal contained.

“Please also provide a copy of or access to the proposal of JE Dunn Construction so we can also confirm their proposal meets the minimum experience outlined in the RFP . . . .”

Kapels also requested tabulated scores of each team.

It does not appear compliance officer Chris Haislett’s reply contained the documentation Kapels requested.

According to the RFP, the selection committee had to rank proposals through certain criteria, the bulk of which was “experience and capabilities.”

The builder/general contractor was to comprise 30 percent of that experience, and the design professionals were to comprise 20 percent.

In a Nov. 21 reply to Kapels, Haislett wrote that the JE Dunn team proposal “identified past projects that showed they have the experience in stadium construction.”

“Your protest questions only whether JE Dunn Construction met the requirement. The experience and capabilities of the entire design build team were evaluated,” Haislett wrote.

He wrote that if the selection committee solely reviewed JE Dunn, that would not have followed the RFP requirement.

Haislett further wrote that that kind of scrutiny would have eliminated Dondlinger from contention as well.

“I deny your protest of the stadium oversite committee’s recommendation to award,” Haislett wrote.

He then gave Kapels three business days to appeal to an internal auditor, which Kapels did not do.

“I think the controversy was did everybody on the team have to have experience or combined did they have to have experience?” said Joe Johnson of Schaefer Johnson Cox Frey.

Johnson said he hasn’t seen Kapels’ letter and doesn’t want to say much, but he said his team does have the necessary experience with the ballparks stated in the RFP.

“I can tell you this is the reason we selected DLR,” Johnson said. “They had so many projects to show us.”

Whether those projects are with Major or Minor League ballparks is unclear, though.

Don Barnum, DLR’s global sports leader, did not return a call for comment.

DLR’s website shows college and arena work, but Major and Minor League ballparks aren’t immediately evident as they are with companies on the other two bidding teams.

For instance, Populous, which is part of the Dondlinger team, lists 20 Major League ballparks, 76 Minor League Ballparks and spring training facilities and 19 Ballpark of the Year awards.

The Barton Malow site says: “The stats say it all – Barton Malow has not missed an opening game since our first sports engagement: general contracting for the Detroit Tigers at the old Navin Field, 70 years ago.”

It also lists “Camden Yards – the first “retro” major league baseball park of the era.”

Haislett says the JE Dunn team not only met the RFP’s requirement but “they exceeded it.” He says he personally doesn’t have documentation to support that but that the mayor and City Council offices do.

City spokeswoman Megan Lovely said city purchasing manager Melinda Walker has that information and would supply it by the end of Thursday. Walker did not call or e-mail, and Lovely didn’t return a follow-up call.

Nor did Mayor Jeff Longwell, who was on the selection committee, return a requested call to discuss the bidding protest.

Nor did City Council member Jeff Blubaugh, who also was on the committee.

City Council member Cindy Claycomb was the only other City Council representative on the committee, which included others as well.

Claycomb said how many Major or Minor League ballparks bidders had built wasn’t an issue that arose.

“I didn’t go through and count them,” she said.

Speaking in general Claycomb said that “from the selection committee’s perspective, those proposals would have had to (make) it through a pre-screening process.”

“We shouldn’t have seen anything if those weren’t qualified proposals.”

Carrie Rengers has been a reporter for almost three decades, including 16 years at The Wichita Eagle. Her Have You Heard? column of business scoops runs five days a week in The Eagle. If you have a tip, please e-mail or tweet her or call 316-268-6340.