About 70 people dressed in green “Buy American, Buy Starkville” T-shirts packed the Starkville School District”s board meeting Tuesday to protest the high school”s new field house not being fabricated by Gulf States Manufacturing.
Previously, the school board awarded the contract for the field house construction to Mike Rozier Construction Co. Inc. from Carrollton, Miss. Gulf States is not a contractor and did not bid on the project, which included a metal building such as those made by the company.
The issue has been rumbling about the community for the last week, and it came to a head at Tuesday night”s board meeting. The board took no action in the open session.
Danny Coggins spoke for Gulf States. He gave a long list of ways the local company, owned by Nucor, supports the school district through actual donations, job creation and economic impact. Then he spoke against the bid process that specified one product only made by a company in Wisconsin, but did not specify that local companies should be contracted for the building.
He championed the issue that the school district should insist on spending their tax dollars locally when possible. He said the fact that Gulf States is a good community neighbor and significant supporter of education should help qualify them as the best bid.
In a presentation made to administrators earlier, Gulf States alleged that “the specifications appear to give advantage to out-of-state and foreign suppliers.”
He said a company in Texas that won the bid to supply the building won”t support the schools and the community.
“They won”t love you the way we do. All we want is to be loved back,” Coggins said.
Since the board already awarded the bid to Mike Rozier Construction, Coggins suggested a way for the board to legally release themselves from this contract.
“The contractor did not follow your specifications,” Coggins said.
He said the bid specifications require that a Letter of Certification and Calculations be submitted within seven days of the award. Thirty days later, that letter had not been submitted, he said.
“Hasn”t the contract already been breached?” Coggins asked rhetorically. “You had a specification and it wasn”t met.”
He concluded by asking the board to determine that the bid contract was breached and “above all, do not export our jobs,” a reference to the fact that the supplier chosen makes some of their products in Mexico.
This message was often repeated in his remarks and on the backs of all the green T-shirts, which stated “Please don”t export our jobs.”
Interim Superintendent Beth Sewell gave the board a two-sided information sheet on the matter before the meeting. She did not speak substantially to the subject during the meeting.
“We are very much aware of Gulf States” role in our community and greatly appreciate its partnership with our public schools,” Sewell said in this written document. “In fact, Gulf States was the supplier for the metal building portion of the addition to Sudduth Elementary School that was completed in 2009.”
However, she said, although Gulf States did contact the school district about the bid, “a review of the bid process for the field house project found Gulf States did not submit a bid for the metal building portion to the contractor that was ultimately the lowest bidder.”
In the same document, Board Attorney Dolton McAlpin addressed the matter.
“In the case of the field house, the school district is informed that Gulf States provided quotes for the metal building portion of the project to some of the unsuccessful bidders, but did not provide a quote to Mike Rozier Construction Co. Inc. until after the bids were opened,” McAlpin said. “Rozier obtained its quote for the metal building from another metal building fabricator, and that cost was included in Rozier”s bid.”
After the presentation, board members were interested in what could be done to address the situation.
McAlpin said he could find no existing law that requires a body such as the school district to buy from local vendors. However, he cited a Depression Era statute that suggests that domestic products should be used, but does not require they be given preference.
He said the board could adopt a policy that uses this wording to indicate their intention to buy locally when possible.
Board member Eddie Myles asked McAlpin specifically what had been breached, referencing Coggins” remarks.
McAlpin did not directly answer this, but rather said that “the school board is the exclusive judge with anybody of what has been breached.”
Members of the audience clapped enthusiastically after Coggins” remarks and a few members tried to address the board from the audience. The board did not allow these comments from the floor as they were not on the agenda, but were gracious as they denied them a voice.
Later in the meeting, architect Shelton Jones updated the board on various construction projects. He said building permits on the field house were let July 25.