A Woodlake company was selected to build the City of Visalia’s emergency communications hub, but the company was not the lowest bidder, or even the second-lowest bidder.
At its Jan. 4 meeting, the Visalia City Council awarded the bid to construct the long-awaited Visalia Emergency Communications Center (VECC) for $11.3 million to Oral E. Micham Construction in Woodlake. The bid included $8.3 million to build the 18,800-square foot building, $2.4 million to install an emergency generator and other site work as well as $165,000 for a parking canopy. The building will house the City’s 911 Dispatch Center, Emergency Operations Center (EOC), Fire Department Administration, Traffic Management Center, Information Systems Center and various other services.
The two lowest bidders both withdrew their bids due to “mathematical error” in calculating the final price. Simile Construction Service in Modesto came in $600,000 lower at $10.7 million and Colombo Construction Company in Bakersfield’s bid was for $11 million. Vice Mayor Warren Gubler said low bidders withdrawing their bids has become a concerning trend in local public projects.
“Maybe we should look at blacklisting [these companies] so they could not bid on future projects,” Gubler suggested. “I think they have a responsibility to do viable, fair bids. If they get the low bid, they should be required to go forward with it or suffer the consequences. I don’t see this happening in the private sector.”
Awarding the bid is the first step in alleviating crowding at the City’s current VECC in the basement of Visalia Police Department headquarters in downtown. The area is so cramped that the breakroom and the supervisor’s office had to be converted into three additional dispatcher consoles to meet the growing demands of a growing city. The lack of space also forced the City of Visalia to house its Emergency Operation Center (EOC) – those who coordinated services in times of catastrophic events or multi-agency response efforts – halfway across the city at Station 55 on Ferguson Ave. near Shirk St.
Within the VECC, the City will obtain and house a new Computer Aided Dispatch and Records Management System (CAD/RMS), which will include new software and hardware components and a touchscreen mobile solution with real-time mobile mapping. This will replace the City’s outdated analog dispatch system which has was installed in 1984 and has been modified over the years.
The only potential hold-up in completing the project could be the railroad company. In order to connect the roundabout in the parking lot of the project to the surrounding streets, several additional road improvement projects are planned to be under construction concurrently with construction of the VECC. School Ave. is planned to be extended from Tipton St. to Burke St., and then extended further from Burke St. to the east to connect with the VECC round-a-bout. Oak Ave. is also planned to be repaved and widened to its ultimate right-of-way from Mill Creek to Goshen Ave. These street improvement projects are scheduled to go to bid for construction in early 2016, with the anticipation that they will be completed prior to the opening of the VECC. These projects are funded separately from the funding for the VECC.
However, the San Joaquin Valley Railroad is objecting to the extension of Oak Ave. to the east, saying they need a 20-foot right-of-way to operate trains down Oak Ave. In talks with the railroad, Porter said city engineers suggested building a curb down the middle of both sides of the street separating traffic from the road. The railroad countered that this would prevent them from doing future maintenance and then requested the city pay to upgrade the lines along Oak Ave.
“I don’t want to be held hostage by the railroad,” Mayor Steve Nelson said. “There has got to be a solution to take them out of the whole situation.”
Staff recommended the Council approve the VECC building project, move on with street improvements to Burke St. and School Ave. and revisit Oak Ave. at a later date. The VECC was approved unanimously.
With an estimated cost of $22 million, the VECC is a major investment for the City. The two-story structure will cost $8.3 million alone with another $1.1 million in electronics, $1.9 million in mobile contracts and nearly $3 million for the CAD/RMS software. The City will fund the project using $8.5 million in Civic Center reserve money and another $600,000 from the General Fund. The rest, about $19 million, will be financed over 15 years. On Sept. 10, the City issued bonds on a certificate of participation for $19 million, which included the debt issuance costs. The debt amount to be paid back is $17.90 million and will be paid back over 14 years at an average interest rate of 3.03%. The amount being paid back is less due to investors paying a premium for the City’s bonds. Investors will pay a premium for bonds based on the City’s excellent an A+ credit rating for the second year in a row. The debt service on the financing will be paid for through a combination of Police Impact Fees, Measure T (public safety tax measure) and the General Fund.
The Convention Center’s existing debt was recently refinanced, which added an additional 10 years to the original debt but lowered the payment from $1.4 million to $0.7 million. The combination of the Convention Center debt plus the VECC debt creates a total debt service payment of $1.17 million, which is less than the original payment for the Convention Center.
The facility is projected to open in September 2017.
“It has been a long road to get to this spot and its nice to see we are there,” said Councilmember Bob Link. “This is another result of Measure T and I’m glad we put money aside for this. This is a real positive thing for our community.”