Builders snubbed by process

TWO of the region’s leading developers have reacted angrily at being snubbed by a local secondary school during a building tender process.

Long-time development company owners Paul Minster and Brett Neilson joined forces this week to accuse Lavalla Secondary College of doing the local economy a “disservice” by preventing some of the area’s most renowned builders from submitting tenders to build a new 800 square metre multipurpose building on one of its campuses.

The college engaged Bairnsdale-based company Slap Architects to manage the new project. It recently called for expressions of interest from builders.

Both BFN developments and P and M Minster Constructions were advised their EOIs had been unsuccessful and they would not be invited to tender for the work, prompting Mr Neilson and Mr Minster to question the criteria applied to applications.

A points system was used to assess applications and Mr Minster said it was disappointing the college did not insist local builders be given some form of points advantage.

He said the families of many local contractors had children who attended Lavalla and both Minsters and BFN had undertaken much work of a similar nature so they “ticked all the boxes” and had been confident of at least “making it to tender stage”.

Lavalla’s business and administration director Rob Tarraran maintained the EOI process was independent and “if we start isolating or modifying aspects of it we are manipulating that process and we don’t want to do that”.

“This has been overseen by Slap Architects and they have passed on their information to the college (of how each company scored) and the college has in no way interfered with the process,” Mr Tarraran said.

It is understood the college was inundated with EOIs, including a number from Melbourne, reflective of a current widespread downturn in the statewide building industry.

Mr Tarraran said six “very clear” criteria were used to assess applications and all were scored, with the top eight being invited to tender.

He said a “pretty even spread” of local builders and those from outside the region had subsequently been invited to tender.

Mr Neilson was not convinced by Lavalla’s response, claiming the lack of any emphasis on selecting suitable local builders was “disgraceful…and so far from reality it amazes me.”

“I am quite confused at the moment,” he said.

“As the Master Builders Association of Victoria current commercial builder of the year for South East Victoria, that I am not considered good enough to even tender to build a gym complex at that school, which I have actually done at another Traralgon school.”

“Alot of our subbies’ kids go to that school and we employ, and have been requested over the past 25 years to employ apprentices from that school, and we are continuously putting kids from that school through work experience, so we are good enough to do that for them but we are not good enough to tender for a project at the school,” Mr Neilson said.

He said he believed there might be only one Latrobe Valley-based bidder left in the process.

“I am not saying I expected them to give us the project,” Mr Neilson said, “but to not even be given the opportunity to tender, it’s disgusting”.

Mr Neilson dismissed the college’s references to the point system.

“We were told this process didn’t question our credentials at all – basically our submission just didn’t have enough fluff on it,” he said.

Mr Minster and Mr Neilson said local builders were struggling in a tough local economic climate, with sub-contractors forced to “lay-off” apprentices and tradespeople.

While the Lavalla project was a relatively small one, it was one of the few projects “on the go” at the moment, Mr Minster said.

“If we were all busy and didn’t have time to tender, that’s different,” he said, “but we have local tradies slowly going broke and reducing hours yet their (Lavalla’s) theory is that they are not worried about local builders.”

Mr Tarraran said Lavalla welcomed EOIs for any future projects “from all local builders”, assuring them “their submissions will be dealt with in an efficient and fair manner”.

For his part, Mr Neilson said next time the college was looking for companies to take on students as apprentices, “my advice would be for them to ring the Melbourne builders”.