The Regional District of Central Kootenay stands by its decision to award a contract for new office furniture to a Vancouver Island company even though a local bidder had the lowest price by about $20,000.
Chief administrator Brian Carruthers said several factors convinced them to go with Graphic Office Interior Ltd. rather than Nelson’s Cowan Office Supply, chiefly warranty and specifications.
First, he said workstation dividing panels Cowan’s offered weren’t tall enough. According to a scoring matrix released Wednesday and attached at bottom, “It was determined that 54-inch panel height was desired and that 51 and 50 inch height panels provided too much visibility and distraction and less privacy.”
Second, Graphic Office provided a 12-year warranty on fabric panels that were “the most vulnerable components” of the overall purchase, whereas Cowan’s offered a five-year warranty that didn’t include shipping and labour.
Third, Carruthers said Cowan’s proposal fell short around adjustable work stations: a three-member staff committee reviewing the bids tried their product but found it hard to use compared to Graphic Office.
The report stated: “Evaluation members tested Cowan’s workstation and found [the] product was not user friendly. Graphic Office workstation had reviews indicating [they were] very user friendly and one member tested and confirmed those findings.
“The review committee members indicated the product associated with Graphic Office and in particular the performance of the adjustable workstations was a significant factor in staff usability and the extra costs associated with the product is warranted.”
On the scoring summary, Cowan’s received top marks for its price: $162,000 compared to $169,000 for Total Office of Kelowna and $182,000 for Graphic Office. However, it lost points for specifications and performance. On the final tally, only ten points separated Graphic Office, Total Office, and Cowan’s but the committee’s recommendation was unanimous.
“It was the decision of the three people who looked at everything independently and they reached the same conclusion,” Carruthers said. “We are purchasing 40 work stations — areas staff work in day in and day out. Is a $20,000 cheaper bid worth less of a warranty or sacrificing panel heights or height-adjustable stations that are difficult for users? We would not be going with a non-low bid if it was not value for the RDCK.”
Not all components were sent to tender. Graphic Office was also awarded a $91,500 contract to provide a file storage system, new reception area, and copy room. Carruthers said those components were the result of a corporate agreement with the province that pre-qualifies government suppliers, of which Graphic Office is one.
Initially the regional district was going to award the contracts entirely using that method, but on hearing there was local interest, they sent the furniture contract out for proposals.
Carruthers also said by law they can’t give preferential treatment to local bidders without breaching an inter-provincial trade agreement.
However, Paul and Andy Cowan said they were “shocked, disappointed, and confused” to lose the contract despite having the low bid. They acknowledged price wasn’t the only criteria but said the ten-point difference was “a virtual tie.”
“Considering this, the real difference between bids comes down to $20,000 or 11.1 per cent difference in pricing. As taxpayers and business owners we have to [ask] how is this justified?” they wrote in a letter to the regional district, copied to the Star. “[A] $20,000 savings to taxpayers should be enough to reconsider their decision and award the contract to Cowan’s.”
However, board chair John Kettle said he trusts the staff recommendation and the matter won’t be revisited. “We rely on our them to make sure the process is clear, fair, and treats everybody the same way. I feel confident they independently reviewed it. If we’re guilty of anything, it’s of supporting our staff.”
Kettle said Nelson companies already receive a great deal of regional district business because the board office is here and any equity purchasing policy would have to put Castlegar, Creston, and other areas on the same footing.
Only Nelson mayor John Dooley voted against awarding the contract to Graphic Office.
The new furniture is part of an overall renovation to the regional district’s Nelson office. Dan Maglio Contracting of Nelson beat out three other local bidders to handle the base renovations and other aspects of the project with the low bid of $302,000.