Maple Leaf bid opening pushed back

Groundbreaking for the Maple Leaf Performing Arts Center won’t happen this month, as the deadline to receive construction bids as been moved to May 2.

The Brown County Commissioners approved the extension at their April 4 meeting. Bids had been scheduled for opening April 18. Commissioner Diana Biddle said 11 contractor companies were interested in the project and had requested more time after looking over the additional bid documents. “They want to come in with a good solid bid and not be guessing,” she said.

At the Brown County Maple Leaf Management Group Inc. meeting April 10, finance committee chairman and newly selected Project President Barry Herring said extending the deadline was “very smart.”

“The last thing we want to do is push them (contractors) too hard. Even though it pains me to slow down, I still think it was the right call to make,” he said.

Bids will be turned in by 10 a.m. May 2 and will be opened at 11 a.m. The commissioners have their regular meeting at 9 a.m. that day, and Biddle said that if their meeting is over before 11, the meeting would recess until then.

Herring said it may take a week for lawyers to go through all of the bids after they are opened. The management group will be responsible for narrowing them down, but the commissioners will award the final bid, Ault said.

When asked last month what would happen if bids come back too high, Ault said the management group would make changes to the project to stay within the budget, such as not paving the venue’s parking lot right away.

Biddle expects that out of the 11 contractors interested, only about six might actually submit bids.

“It’s a substantial project, so for some of the smaller companies, they might not be able to squeeze it in this year. They may already have commitments,” she said.

Once bids are awarded, a groundbreaking will be scheduled and construction can begin.

The county secured a $12.5 million bank loan to build the 2,000-seat concert venue behind Brown County Health & Living Community. They’ve already spent about $2.5 million on land and plans.

During the April 12 Brown County Convention and Visitors Commission meeting, CVC Secretary Derek Clifford expressed concerns about cutting corners to keep the project within budget and whether it would still be realistic to build it if bids came in too high.

“Everyone has put so much time into this. Is there a problem with tunnel vision? Can you guys accept, if these bids come in too high, that there’s only so much you should do in downgrading the project to be able to get it built?” he asked.

Herring said if the bids come back too high, the management group will discuss options to save money in public meetings.

“This is a unique structure. It’s never been built before. There’s no way of knowing exactly how much it’s supposed to cost until you go out and get the bids. We’ve done everything we can do,” Herring said.

He said there is already a budget for sound engineering, lighting and seating. “We have actual bids in hand for all of that. What we’re really looking for is steel, roofing, the finish works,” he said.

If there is a significant gap between what the project will actually cost and the amount of money the county can spend to build it, Herring mentioned selling the naming rights.

“Let’s say bids come in at $14 million. Then how do we do it? You sell the naming rights,” he said.

Ault said there wouldn’t be any “movement” on naming rights until they know how much the bids are.

“Will I ever give up on this? Probably not,” Herring said. “Will I find different ways of filling the gap between when the bids come in and getting it done? Will everybody have a voice if we do value engineering (trimming the project to stay in budget)? Absolutely.”

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Suzannah Couch grew up in Brown County, reading the Brown County Democrat. A 2013 Franklin College graduate, she covers business, cops/courts, education and arts/entertainment.