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First state contracts awarded to cool isle classrooms

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A Honolulu company has been awarded the first four contracts under the state’s $100 million initiative to cool 1,000 public school classrooms — signaling a major step forward for the project, which has suffered setbacks amid the state’s booming construction market.

C C Engineering &Construction Inc. emerged as the lowest bidder on cooling projects for four Oahu schools on the Department of Education’s priority list for air conditioning: Aliamanu Elementary, August Ahrens Elementary in Waipahu, Kamaile Academy in Waianae and Nanakuli Elementary.

The general contractor submitted bids totaling just over $1.96 million for the four projects, which involve solar-powered air conditioning for 25 portable classrooms as well as some remediation work for possible roof repairs and painting. That breaks down to an average of about $78,000 per classroom — almost double the per-classroom estimate the Department of Education had been budgeting but far below some of the other bids submitted.

For example, C C Engineering &Construction’s bid on the five-classroom cooling project at Aliamanu Elementary came in roughly $100,000 less per classroom than the highest bid. The company had bid $404,100 for the work, or $80,820 per classroom, compared with a bid from Economy Plumbing &Sheet Metal for $902,700, or $180,540 per classroom.

For Nanakuli Elementary’s six-classroom project, C C Engineering &Construction’s bid came in roughly $41,000 less per classroom than the next-lowest bid. The company bid $528,000 for the work, while Greenpath Technologies submitted a bid for $772,543.

John Cheung, president of C C Engineering &Construction, said his company hopes to start the work as soon as possible.

“We were lucky to submit the lowest bids,” Cheung told the Honolulu Star-Advertiser. “We are excited to be part of this process to cool down these classrooms, and we are looking at different ways to save the DOE money.”

He described his company as a small business, with typically 20 to 30 employees on hand, depending on demand. Cheung said he’s not sure why some of the other bids came in so high.

“When you are bidding on jobs, it depends on how the contractor looks at the job at the time that they do the estimate,” Cheung said. “So I cannot and I don’t know how they priced it out. I can only say that we submitted very competitive bids and we were the low bidders.”

Department of Education officials say they are working with contractors to further bring down costs, where possible, within procurement rules.

“Communication with contractors on our specific needs for cooling classrooms was key in getting to this point, and it will continue as we move forward,” said DOE spokeswoman Donalyn Dela Cruz. “This is not a one-size-fits-all approach. We’re relieved and excited to get these projects for this initiative underway.”

Using early industry estimates, DOE officials had been budgeting $40,000 as an “estimated median per classroom” cost to cover equipment and installation of air conditioners and other heat abatement measures. The DOE had estimated it could complete the project for roughly $45 million, with most schools receiving solar-powered air conditioners. (The legislation providing $100 million for the initiative requires spending the funds on “equipment and installation costs for air conditioning, other heat abatement measures, energy efficient lighting and other energy efficiency measures” to help offset energy use.)

But in June when the initial round of bids for projects at six schools started coming in significantly over budget — including a proposal as high as $360,770 to cool one portable classroom in Leeward Oahu — the department halted the solicitation of bids.

DOE officials pointed to increased labor costs due to the state’s hot construction market and an initially limited number of companies that were pre-qualified to bid, but some general contractors complained that the department’s project specifications were overly complex.

The department put most of the work out for bid again in early July and doubled the pool of pre-qualified contractors to 36 companies from 18. It also held a so-called pre-bid meeting late last month with contractors to answer questions about the projects.

“Our facilities development branch presented information that basically clarified the scope and the bid process,” Tracy Okumura, executive assistant in the department’s School Facilities and Support Services Branch, said in an update last week to the Board of Education.

He said some of the feedback from contractors “resulted in some changes to the program, which we are hoping will reflect better pricing” moving forward.

Corey Rosenlee, president of the Hawaii State Teachers Association and a longtime advocate for cooling public school classrooms, contends the latest bids are still too high. He pointed to a handful of pilot projects in schools on Oahu and Molokai that have installed energy-efficient cooling systems for closer to $20,000 per classroom, without the need for expensive electrical upgrades.

“I’m completely frustrated,” Rosenlee said in an interview. “These companies are bidding $200,000 per classroom, and the winning bids are $80,000 per classroom. When I see those numbers, what it represents to me is, there are thousands of classrooms and tens of thousands of students that will never see air conditioning in their classrooms.”

He wants to see the project paused until costs can be reined in.

“I think the DOE and the governor need to look at different ways of doing this — and this may mean one contractor for the entire state,” Rosenlee said. “One contractor may get very lucky, but the reality is the ones who will benefit most is the students. … It’s better to do the job right than to do it fast.”

To cope with the heat in the meantime, he’s been encouraging the Depart-ment of Education and Board of Education to consider “heat days,” or closing down schools when temperatures get too high in the classroom.

“Students and teachers should not be subjected to environments that are so unhealthy that it can damage their health,” he said. “We need to put in air conditioning because it’s just so unbearable, and in the interim we need to have heat days.”

Of the 11,806 DOE classrooms across the state, roughly 4,400 have air conditioning. Fifty schools — or 19 percent of DOE schools — had at least 90 percent of their classrooms air-conditioned as of last week.

The goal under the DOE’s heat abatement program is for classroom temperatures to be at 76 degrees. Mechanical cooling is planned for classrooms in which heat abatement efforts — such as ceiling fans, solar-powered vents to draw out hot air and heat-reflective roof systems — don’t sufficiently bring down the temperature.

Heat abatement projects, which are separate from the 1,000-classrooms initiative, are ongoing. Reflective roof coatings have been applied to 423 portable classrooms, 139 classrooms have received new ceiling fans and 109 classrooms are equipped with portable air conditioners.

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    • There are small local contractors who were willing to bid less than $10,000 per classroom but were rejected and told to keep quiet so the DOE could give the bids to the larger companies who use products from China and install solar panels. I wonder who is receiving the kickbacks for these overpriced contracts? But this is not surprising as this is how we got stuck with the rail financial fiasco. I am a high school teacher and I don’t think it would cost more than $5000 to put two window mounted AC’s in my math classroom. The room doesn’t have to be 100% energy efficient as long as it cools my room for 7 hours a day down from 88 degrees to about 72 degrees. How can anyone expect the students to learn or the teachers to teach in this environment?

      • We could reach the goal of 100% renewable energy if we could just harness all the gas coming out of the governor’s office, from all our elected bureaucrats, Honolulu Hale, and especially BOE/DOE/HSTA/HGEA. Unlimited gas potential from the unions.

    • It was ignored because the proposal does not include an electrical power source (solar) and doesn’t even include electrical hookups. They want a complete system ready to operate.

  • I agree with Rosenlee. $80k still seems high.

    My family had a wholeb-house 20 panel system installed for $16k in 2014. Our pv system even gives extra net power back to HECO each month, for free, for other users.

    Seems we could do better for more classrooms, more students, and DOE could reduce more of its electric bill in the process.

    • If your home is newer than the school classrooms then your electrical system may not have required an upgrade. Majority of school classrooms are decades old, were never wired to handle today’s power needs, circuits are close to being maxed out.

      Installing Aircon and PV can require a total upgrade of the building’s electrical wiring. New circuit breaker panel installed, new circuits added, all wiring brought up to current NEC standards. Required for public facilities, to protect our Keiki, prevent law suits.

      Also understand during any construction project there is the chance of finding hidden damage such as rotted wood, damaged wiring, on and on. All this unplanned damage must be repaired.

      Way to many rookies think aircon is simply plug and turn on. Not so simple.

      • To the tune of $80,000 PER CLASSROOM? This is pure price gouging!!! For $80K the contractor can rebuild the whole classroom, not just electrical work and install solar. This is madness!

        • You have no clue what must be done to install aircon in a very old building. Circuits already operating near maximum capacity will blow the breaker if you plug a large aircon unit in.

          Not to mention as I have said over and over, you have to make the building/classroom energy efficient. As in replacing air leaking jalousie windows, insulation in the ceiling, tight doors. Fail and aircon will run at max all day long, using maximum energy. Also a dusty classroom will require frequent aircon filter changes.

          Job must be done right. You just don’t slap in a wall unit and call it done.

      • If they made these stand-alone split air systems with photovoltaic power supply and backup battery, they wouldn’t have to connect to existing electrical wiring. That is what RevoluSun company did with their demonstration system at one of the schools.

        There also is an existing contract being worked on at schools for things like “damage such as rotted wood, damaged wiring, on and on”. When this kind of damage is found, the repair won’t be under the air conditioning contract.

        Thus, the costs should not be in the $80,000 range. The costs should be similar to what a homeowner would pay to install pv, a/c, and a battery. I haven’t verified it yet but a Solar City salesperson told me that a homeowner paid around $13,000 (total before tax credits) for pv, a/c for his whole house, and a battery backup.

        • Batteries and PV panels would be a total nightmare to maintain. As we have seen over and over, school maintenance has never been done to standard, left to build up into the millions and millions with no hope of ever fixing everything. Soooo PV aircon and batteries would be perfectly maintained? Really? Where is the money coming from? Not in the Nei.

          Uhhhh, damaged wiring, replacing circuit breaker panels, rotted wood where the aircon would be installed, must all be done at the same time. Package deal. Can’t pick and choose.

          You also failed to understand all the work must be inspected before it is accepted. Everything related to electrical must be up to code or guess who will be paying lawsuits for injured Keiki? Can you say “Taxpayers?”

        • If maintenance is going to be a problem, we can’t build anything. So why not just stop everything and quit?

          If the system is “stand-alone” and not connected to existing wiring, any existing electrical (wiring, breakers) is a separate issue, not part of a/c. If there is “rotted wood where the aircon would be installed”, sure replace it but that part would be a small part of the work and cost.

          Sure inspection of all the work performed is necessary. But they don’t have to inspect anything that is not part of the work. You think they have to start inspecting the foundation, all the structure and walls, plumbing, toilets, drainage system, etc. – NO WAY!

          Things can be “simple” if people focus on what is needed. It can get overly complicated when people start bringing up things that are not relevant.

        • Don’t overlook the fact that Revolusun has already installed a demo system at a school and several legislators were present when they turned it on.

    • Like the mainland contractors who repaired Aloha Stadium faster and at lower cost than local contractors could do. Unions whined like they were gut shot. Called the mainland workers “Cockroaches.”

      They were offered the work but could not meet the standards. Shot themselves in the foot.

  • There must be a big disconnect (around 100% difference) between what the DOE bid documents are asking for and the DOE consultants design and estimated costs. Before proceeding with the contracts, the DOE needs to find out what that problem is. If DOE cannot handle this a/c project properly, they need to STOP and let the State designate another Department to do it right.

  • There are small local contractors who were willing to bid less than $10,000 per classroom but were rejected and told to keep quiet so the DOE could give the bids to the larger companies who use products from China and install solar panels. I wonder who is receiving the kickbacks for these overpriced contracts? But this is not surprising as this is how we got stuck with the rail financial fiasco. I am a high school teacher and I don’t think it would cost more than $5000 to put two window mounted AC’s in my math classroom. The room doesn’t have to be 100% energy efficient as long as it cools my room for 7 hours a day down from 88 degrees to about 72 degrees. How can anyone expect the students to learn or the teachers to teach in this environment?

    • If you are a high school teacher you sure do not know how the real world works. Your students are suffering.

      You just don’t plug in two window ACs without knowing how much power they will draw and if your circuit will handle the load. Circuits already almost maxed out, the breakers will blow.

      If your classroom is not energy efficient, as in leaking jalousie windows, gaps under the door, no insulation in the walls or ceilings, you are just wasting energy. Aircon will always be operating max trying to overcome the infiltrating heat. Wasting electricity at taxpayer’s expense.

      Might want to take a basic electricity course during your free time. You have so much to learn. Time to be a student again.

  • $80,820 per classroom? DOE should have contractor show how much profit they will make on each classroom. And if DOE approves the amount, then put it in the contract that if the amount is more at the end of the work, then they need to reimburse the difference. BTW does each bid show how much they will make after expenses?

  • The problem is that DOE didn’t use the city rail estimators for the ac work. The rail estimators would have included 30% contingency and be spot on the bids.

  • Glad to see they prioritized the first schools being air conditioned by hottest average temperatures like Ewa Beach. Oh, wait a minute, there are no Ewa Beach schools in the first group.

  • Are the solar photovoltaic systems going to tie into the grid? Can they do that without upsetting HECO’s grid system?

    I hope for that $80,000 per classroom, the contract includes backup battery systems for each installation.

  • If you aren’t in the construction industry, you shouldn’t talk. Many of these cooling classroom projects include added stuff…over and above the electrical upgrades and air conditioning units. I heard that some DOE classrooms wanted new windows…motorized ones. Also, the DOE wanted the contractor to ensure the roof can handle to load of the panels…which required them to hire a structural engineer to inspect and certify. DOE also wanted the entire roof to be warranted when the panels penetrate the roof. All of these extra requirements by DOE costs money. It aint as simple as you ppl think…so enough with the comments. The most ignorant comment is by HSTA President Cory Rosenlee…one contractor for the entire state? Sounds like he is encouraging a monopoly…no competitive bidding = higher prices…DUH?!?!?!?

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