Courthouse project sparks hiring discussion

Montezuma County has raised a few eyebrows with its choice of an owner’s representative to manage and oversee the construction of a $7.5 million courthouse.

But the commissioners have stoutly stood by Monty Guiles of Mancos and say they are confident he will do a good job in safeguarding the county’s interest in all phases of design and construction.

The 33,000-square-foot courthouse is to be built on seven acres of county-owned land next to the county detention center in Cortez.

On Jan. 11, the commissioners voted unanimously to appoint Guiles, cofounder of Circle Zebra Fabricators, which specializes in heavy construction, pipelines and oilfield services, as the owner’s rep. Circle Zebra recently installed the breakwater for McPhee Reservoir, which, after delays attributed to the California design firm, was successfully completed last year. It was a joint project of the county and the Forest Service.

Guiles has been in the construction business some 25 years, with the vast majority of his experience in metal-based projects such as pipelines. That caused some critics to privately question the selection process.

Reflecting those concerns, Chris Eastin, a former vice president of business development for the construction company Nielsons Skanska, spoke during the public-comment portion of the commissioners’ meeting Jan. 25 and suggested a new selection process be undertaken.

In prepared remarks, Eastin – who had reviewed the applications for the job – charged that Circle Zebra’s proposal was “non-responsive to the RFP [the request for proposals advertised by the county].”

“The Guiles/Circle Zebra’s proposal did not demonstrate any experience as Owner’s Representative or Project Manager for a major building project,” Eastin continued. “This is the main requirement of the county’s RFP.”

Eastin provided a chart listing ways in which he believed Guiles’s proposal did not meet the county’s advertised requirements.

“This project will be a big undertaking for the county with many technical issues to manage. Hiring a firm who has proven professional experience with project management will enable [the] county to hold the line on costs,” Eastin said.

“Without this expertise the project may face schedule delays, contract claims and disputes, poor-quality work, and local coordination problems. County taxpayers could end up paying for resulting cost overruns or withheld grant reimbursements.”

But Commissioner Keenan Ertel was dismissive of Eastin’s concerns in a recent interview with the Free Press, saying all the candidates were thoroughly vetted, although not through a weighted points system.

“We had a number of questions we asked the companies who gave us their RFQs and RFPs and they were all very qualified. We went through the same list of questions with all the candidates.

“We also looked at their bid proposals – what they were going to give us in return for what they asked us to pay them – and we made our judgment based off those questions and that financial information.”

Price was a major factor in the commissioners’ choice, according to Ertel. KPMC’s bid and that of Triad were both just short of $200,000, nearly half again as much as Guiles’s bid of $135,000.

“When I’m spending taxpayers’ money, price is always a consideration,” Ertel said, adding that Guiles was both “qualified and willing.”

Montezuma is the only county in Colorado that houses its district and county courts in separate buildings. In recent years the state judiciary has been applying increasing pressure on the county to replace the cramped, aging and relatively insecure district and county courts. The district courtrooms are currently located in the 83-year-old courthouse in downtown Cortez and county courts are in the Justice Building near Centennial Park, built in the early ’80s.

The new combined courthouse will be a pre-engineered metal building rather than a traditional “stick-built” structure. An architectural firm has been hired to draw up plans and the county is working on hiring a general contractor.

Once groundbreaking occurs, probably this summer, the courthouse is expected to be completed in 18 months.

The project is being funded through a patchwork of revenue sources, including $2.6 million in state grants and $5 million from the county’s capital reserves.

To some extent, the disagreement between the county and critics over Guiles’s hiring reflects the difference between more-formal hiring procedures broadly used by public entities, and the commissioners’ traditionally less rigid methods.

Eastin, who started with Nielsons Inc. in Cortez in 1978 and retired in 2013, said he was not criticizing Guiles as an individual.

“I’m not saying he isn’t a good guy,” Eastin said, adding that he was concerned instead about the process utilized to select him.

“I had suggested to them [the commissioners] they build a weighted scoring system so they could show the impact if one guy was cheaper, but brought to the table some things that gave him a good weighted score, but they just sort of winged it.

“My real problem is that they said, ‘This is what you’ve got to furnish us’ – and they just didn’t do it. That’s very irregular in this type of process.’

For example, he said, applicants were asked to supply references regarding similar projects, but Guiles did not.

“They bypassed the safeguards that were put in that RFP and just made a gut selection,” Eastin said.

Ertel did not see the value in a mathematical construct. “I don’t know where Mr. Eastin got his ideas about matrices and all this high-fallutin’ measuring and statistics he had in his [statement],”Ertel told the Free Press, “but we didn’t use that.”

Guiles was one of four applicants to respond to the county’s RFP and RFQ (request for qualifications). The Free Press reviewed the applications, which were made available by the county upon request.

  • One was from a local individual who submitted a two-page letter/résumé and a one-page fee proposal.
  • Another was from Triad Western Constructors of Cortez. The company said it would assign Jason Umberger, the company’s project manager/estimator, to be the owner’s rep.

According to the file, Umberger, who has a B.A. from Fort Lewis College in engineering management, worked on Phase 1 and 2 of Three Springs Village One near Durango, a $13 million residential/ commercial development.

  • The other proposal was from KPMC of Durango, owned by Jim Ketter and Peter Robinson.

Ketter has an extensive background as an engineering manager and project manager, according to the application. He served as the owner’s rep for the new $33 million Montezuma-Cortez High School, the Dolores K-12 renovation and expansion, and renovation and additions to the Ignacio Elementary School. KPMC also did pro bono work as owner’s rep for the Cornerstone Building project in downtown Cortez.

Robinson likewise served as an owner’s rep for MCHS as well as several new buildings at Fort Lewis College.

In his résumé, Guiles cited his 25 years’ experience in “providing end-to-end project management delivery in the petrochemical, marine, and civil construction sectors.”

As representative projects with Circle Zebra, which Guiles co-founded in 2006 in Robstown, Texas, he listed four pipelines in different states and installation of equipment and piping for a recycle compressor in Utah.

Prior to forming Circle Zebra, he was an owner-developer with TWI Galvanizing of Robstown, Texas, which provided hot-dip galvanizing of metal components. Before that, Guiles said, he had supervisory positions with two other companies in Texas on projects such as a dam, lights on a Coast Guard platform, a bulkhead, a pump station for a port, a bridge and a fishing pier.

The RFP called for the owner’s rep to be a licensed general contractor or have a minimum of 15 years’ experience as a general contractor. It also called for the person to “be able to provide references on projects of similar scale.”

LEED accreditation from the Green Building Council was also required. Guiles did not have it at the time, but has since obtained it.

Ertel said Guiles is “very experienced in many different facets of construction, a good part of it oilfield-related stuff, but he’s been in all types of construction and knows the construction business very well.

“I don’t know that any of the applicants had specific qualifications with building a courthouse.

“What impressed me about Mr. Guiles was his sincerity in wanting us to get the very, very best building for the dollars we’re going to spend,” Ertel said.

He added that Guiles, a member of the Mancos School Board, “lives in our community and is invested in our community.”

Most construction involves the same principles anyway, Ertel said.

Guiles told the Free Press the same thing.

“At the end of the day, construction is construction – it’s concrete and steel and roofs and CMU units,” he said.

“I have never built a courthouse; however, in the mechanical world and the oil-and-gas world there are always buildings and facilities being built,” though they are ancillary to such projects, he said.

“I’ve built any number of facilities with large operation rooms and control rooms.

“So, no courthouses; however, lots and lots and lots of buildings as parts of larger projects.”

Guiles said he offers a business owner’s perspective as well as the fact that he has been manager or superintendent on a number of projects.

“I’ve employed literally hundreds and hundreds of men and built millions and millions of dollars of projects in that time.

“I now consult for different projects throughout the country – I did one last year in Kansas.”

One way Guiles’ proposal appears to save money is that, unlike the two more expensive bidders, it does not have any provision for support staff.

Guiles said since he will be devoting himself fulltime to the project he doesn’t anticipate needing help to handle paperwork and such, but that his staff at Circle Zebra would be available if necessary.

“I want us to have a good project that is well received by the community. I want it to come in within budget and on schedule. I want the contractor to be successful and profitable.

“I want us to have a long-term facility that we are all happy to utilize and see.”

Guiles declined to respond specifically to Eastin’s statement about his qualifications.

“Mr. Eastin doesn’t know me from Adam, doesn’t know what I’m capable of,” he said.

“It’s hard to see how he came to those conclusions he came to.”

Eastin said the fact that the new courthouse will be pre-fabricated doesn’t mean it will be simple.

“It is going to be a custom site building based on architect’s plans that will be relatively detailed. It has a lot of uses that will have to be addressed in terms of jury rooms , the judges’ chambers and that sort of thing. It also would have, I think, quite a bit more in the way of mechanical systems – heat, ventilation and air-conditioning – and security requirements in terms of housing prisoners and protecting the facility.”

As “major accomplishments” with TWI Galvanizing, Guiles’s application cited orchestrating an Economic Development Administration grant with the city of Robstown to do infrastructure improvements required to build a $1.5 million facility; and “Achieved City approval of loan guarantee in the form of a Surety Bond, securing the remainder of the $4.6 million dollars required to complete construction of the facility.”

However, once completed, the business defaulted on the $4.6 million loan after a year of operation, leading to a protracted lawsuit that was ultimately settled out of court.

The RFP asked applicants to, “Provide description of any lawsuits or claims including status and resolutions (if any).”

Ertel said he did not recall discussing Guiles’s past business difficulties with him, but, “If it was reconciled, taken care of and done away with, so be it. I do not necessarily choose to hold a person’s past over his head.”

Guiles stressed that he has nothing to hide about the Tex-Wave project. “Businesses start and businesses fail, and that one failed,” he said.

“There was a lawsuit that went on for quite some time, but at the end of the day there was no at-fault on either side, no judgment against me – it was just business stuff (with) bankers.

“There was a successful part of that and that’s why it was on my résumé. It was a 30,000-square-foot facility that we built from the ground up and was a beautiful facility.

“It was just that the business side of it failed. There’s absolutely no scandal there.”

From March 2016.