Controversy aside, district gets its bidder

NASHUA – After facing accusations of incorrectly issuing a contract for a districtwide security systems upgrade, the school board has decided to move forward with the project.

The project has been put on hold after two vendors who were passed over for the job blasted the bidding process used by the district. Among the complaints were that the district did not go with the lowest qualified bidder.

There were also concerns raised about phone calls not being returned and the specifications for the job changing midway through the process without notification.

Despite those complaints, board members voted to move forward with awarding the contract to Surveillance Specialties, a Massachusetts-based company, the firm originally recommended by the district.

Before voting, board members met behind closed doors with administrators who oversaw the bidding process.

“I think we did a pretty rigorous examination of the quotes,” said board member Robert Hallowell. “I think we’re on pretty solid ground here in choosing (Surveillance Specialties).”

The project will cost $2.21 million, money that the school district will have to get from the city’s school capital reserve fund.

The Board of Aldermen’s budget committee voted Tuesday night to recommend funding the project. The full board is expected to take up the recommendation next week.

The two firms that raised concerns about the bidding process – SimplexGrinnell and Signet Electronic Systems Inc. – both made it to the final round of the selection process.

A committee made up of administrators, a security consultant and Alderman-at-Large Fred Teeboom reviewed the final bids and made the recommendation to go with Surveillance Specialties.

After being passed over, both firms sent letters to the school district outlining their complaints. One issue of contention is who the low bidder on the project was.

Both of the firms passed over for the job claim they were the low bidder, but the district disagrees.

According to the district’s analysis, SimplexGrinnell came in the lowest at $1.54 million, which includes the base bid, plus the cost of the maintenance and spare parts.

The comparative bids of Surveillance Specialties and Signet were $1.92 million and $2.1 million, according to the school district.

Also in the district’s analysis, SimplexGrinnell and Signet received grades of “marginal” under references, while Surveillance Specialties received a grade of “excellent.”

However, in its formal response to the two firms, the district acknowledges it did not go with the lowest bidder, but the vendor that best met the requirements for the job.

“SURV was the lowest of the vendors to provide a proven, completely browser-based solution,” the district wrote. “The committee ultimately deemed this factor a key discriminator.”

It’s not known whether either of the firms will take any legal action.

Greg Hussy, vice president of engineering for Signet, came to the board and reiterated his position his company was “the low and best RFP response.”

SimplexGrinnell is a national corporation with offices in Nashua. In its letter to the district, the company wrote that it met all of the specifications of the district’s request for proposals and came in with the lowest bid.

The company also stressed that dozens of local employees would benefit from the district going with a Nashua-based company.

However, the district claims that its history with SimplexGrinnell, who worked on the high school renovation and construction project, is less than stellar.

“The district has had an ‘uneven’ experience with the low bidder, Simplex, with regard to prior district contracts in terms of cost of service, response time and discontinuing support of recently installed equipment,” the district wrote.

The district also claims that SimplexGrinnell’s system being proposed for the security project was not proven.

The scope of the project is to create a “buzz-in” system at all of the schools, which would mean locking the doors and requiring someone in the main office to open the doors.

The project also includes installing proximity swipe access to all other doors, along with video surveillance systems.

Tom Vaughan, president of the Board of Education, said the board took the complaints from the two vendors seriously, but said that it appears that everything was handled properly.

“So far as we can tell, everything was done correctly,” he said.

Michael Brindley can be reached at 594-6426 or