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County reverses course, awards multi-million dollar contract to Sunlight Enterprises

A week after El Paso County’s Procurement Review Panel told County Commissioners to give a multi-million dollar construction project to F.T. James, they’ve reversed course and recommended Sunlight Enterprises. This is a sharp contrast to last week, when county employees were of the belief F.T. James represented the better deal.

The debacle came down to a set of alternative construction plans drafted by an architect. At the time those drawings were made no one was certain El Paso County would have enough money to finish improvements on the El Paso Sportspark.

One company, F.T. James, had the lowest base bid. However, Sunlight Enterprises had the lowest overall bid when you account for nine alternatives.

The difference in one of those alternatives, alternative No. 2, was so great county workers wanted to do the work themselves. Public Works Director Ernie Carrizal told County Commissioners last week that his employees could do the work for a cost of $300,000. If true, that would save the county money and make F.T. James the logical choice.

County Judge Veronica Escobar requested Carrizal go back to the table and work up numbers to prove his claims. This week Carrizal admitted the work would cost the county $132,000 more than first thought. It swung the best bid back to Sunlight Enterprises.

Larry Trejo, the executive director of the El Paso chapter of The Associated General Contractors, came to the El Paso County Commissioners meeting on Monday to defend F.T. James’ bid. According to him, the county has always approved the lowest base bid, and the decision being made by Commissioners was wrong.

Trejo said F.T. James had even begun working to secure contracts with sub-contractors who would complete work, because he was told he was the base bid several weeks ago.

“In order to approve, and get this project done, he immediately began working on it,” said Trejo. “He says we got the award, and then one days says, ‘We didn’t get the award.'”

County Judge Veronica Escobar said fear exists that the county will be sued. Attorneys for both construction companies were inside the courthouse during talks for the third time in as many weeks. Whether a lawsuit will be filed has yet to be seen, however, Escobar said they needed to make sure they did everything properly.

Commissioners voted 5-0 in favor of giving the contract to Sunlight Enterprises. According to documents from the El Paso County Auditor’s Office, the contract is worth $7,579,095.

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