Biloxi May Act As Own Contractor

The city of Biloxi may become the first in the state to place a construction manager in charge of big capital projects, an idea that has its skeptics. Mayor A.J. Holloway believes the change would keep projects on schedule and within budget. Coast contractors say hand-picking one firm allows the mayor to play favorites.

Because construction management is considered a professional service, competitive bids are not required. The mayor is negotiating with W.G. Yates & Sons Construction Co., which is doing similar work for the Biloxi School District and the state. The city is about to start a new round of big road projects tied to casino and other development. ``What I'm looking for is accountability,'' Holloway said. ``Time is money. We have not been getting our jobs through on a timely manner. I'm tired of city jobs that should take six months taking a year and six months. We're not playing a favorite. We expect and we demand accountability.''

Details still have to be hammered out in a contract that the City Council must approve. This service is not new to the public sector in other states, such as North Carolina, which plans to hire construction managers for a $4.1 billion building campaign for its 16-campus university system. Key phrases the city should look for in a contract are ``agent'' and ``at risk,'' said Gordon Rutherford, the staff architect for North Carolina's university system. Under the agent system, the construction manager acts as a consultant who isn't liable for projects that don't turn out well, Rutherford said. An at-risk construction manager must guarantee a maximum price for a project, regardless of the actual cost, he said. William G. Yates III said his company is interested in being an agent. After all, the city is not asking the firm to manage one specific project, but the construction of at least three thoroughfares as well as other big capital projects. Yates and its executives donated $1,500 this year to Holloway's re-election campaign, but other construction companies gave money as well, including some opposed to the management system. ``Yates Construction is not necessarily a proponent of contract management,'' Yates said. ``We're interested in the best method to get a construction project done for our client.''

Although he prefers an at-risk construction manager, Rutherford said he still likes the agent system over allowing general contractors to bid. A construction manager and the architect can plan a smooth, realistic schedule for both costs and time, he said. But members of the Associated General Contractors of Mississippi Inc., a trade group, oppose construction management. The manager would replace general contractors, who bid on big projects, then hire subcontractors. ``You're adding a layer of expense to a project, and you're not reaping any benefits,'' said Chris Crighton, a contractor. ``What they're trying to sell you as a construction manager is an automobile that never needs gasoline.''

Under construction management, projects are divided into smaller bid packages. The work is awarded to bidders, who answer to the construction manager. The theory is that a construction manager cuts out the cost of a middle man and gives the city more control over subcontractors. But architect Buddy Fountain charged that the managers would duplicate the work of architects, cut space or quality from projects and increase expenses. He's most concerned about the ``gray areas,'' such as who is qualified to be a construction manager and whether the city will be liable for his shortcomings. ``In my opinion, construction management is the biggest farce that's come into the construction business, and I've been in it 50 years,'' he said.