A recent decision by the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania illustrates the extreme perils of waiting too long to challenge a violation of the public bidding laws.
In December 2015, the West Jefferson Hill School District solicited bids for a new high school project. All sanitary, storm, and water line installations inside and up to five feet outside the building were included in the scope of the prime plumbing contract. All site sanitary, storm, and water line installations more than five feet from the building were included in the scope of the prime general contract as “site utility” work. In January 2016, the school district awarded the prime plumbing contract to Wheels Mechanical Contracting (Wheels). Read more
On Thursday, July 13, AIA Pennsylvania, the unifying body of the Pennsylvania chapters of the American Institute of Architects, will host a debate on the Separations Act. The moderated debate will take place at Harrisburg University and will feature key players on both sides of the Separations Act. You can find more information and register to attend the event at the AIA Pennsylvania registration page.
In Pennsylvania, public construction projects are nearly always governed by the Separations Act, a law that was passed in 1913, more than 100 years ago.
The Separations Act (variations of which also appear in statutes governing Boroughs, Townships, and other government entities) provides as follows:
Hereafter in the preparation of specifications for the erection, construction, and alteration of any public building, when the entire cost of such work shall exceed four thousand dollars, it shall be the duty of the architect, engineer, or other person preparing such specifications, to prepare separate specifications for the plumbing, heating, ventilating, and electrical work; and it shall be the duty of the person or persons authorized to enter into contracts for the erection, construction, or alteration of such public buildings to receive separate bids upon each of the said branches of work, and to award the contract for the same to the lowest responsible bidder for each of said branches.
So, what does this mean? It means that for public building construction in excess of $4,000, all public owners must prepare separate specifications, solicit separate bids, and award separate contracts for general construction, plumbing, heating and ventilating, and electrical work. Read more
The Pennsylvania Separations Act was enacted in 1913, a century ago. It requires public entities to solicit separate bids and award separate contracts for plumbing, heating, electrical, and ventilating work that is part of a public construction project where the costs of construction generally exceed $4,000.
In recent years, there have been many efforts in the Pennsylvania General Assembly to do away with the Separations Act or to limit its application. None have been successful. This year, there are again efforts brewing in the General Assembly to exclude school construction from the requirements of the Separations Act, with one bill progressing more quickly than others.
On April 17, 2013, HB324 was reported out of the House Education Committee. This bill amends the Public School Code to provide for the removal of the Separations Act requirements for school construction.
The sponsor of HB324 provides this rationale for his bill:
My legislation will relieve school districts of the mandate to comply with the Separations Act and will give them the flexibility to determine whether a single or multiple prime delivery system provides the most efficient and cost-effective way to complete a project.
It remains to be seen whether this latest effort to amend the Separations Act will be successful.