Ship Bottom borough is moving ahead with plans for a new municipal complex at the current location between 16th and 17th streets on the Boulevard, as officials refute a civil action complaint filed by a failed bidder for the multi-million-dollar construction contract.
At a special meeting March 19, the council awarded a $9.49 million construction contract to J.H. Williams Enterprises Inc., a privately held commercial construction company located in Moorestown. The company has more than five decades of experience in construction and real estate, according to its website.
J.H. Williams submitted the lowest responsible bid for the work, with a base bid of $9.44 million and a contingency of $50,000, according to Resolution 2021-59, which awarded the contract. In total, nine bids were received on Jan. 26 and reviewed by both the borough architect and attorney. The second lowest bidder was Epic Management Inc., whose bid was $500,000 more than the J.H. Williams proposal, according to court documents filed on behalf of J.H. Williams’ winning bid.
On March 12, one week prior to J.H. Williams being awarded the construction contract for the new complex, Epic Management filed a civil action suit against the borough and its competition in Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Ocean County.
In its complaint, Epic, a program and construction management services company based in Piscataway, claims J.H. Williams failed to identify its electrical subcontractor, a violation of New Jersey Public Bidding Law rendering the bid nonresponsive; failed to comply with the borough’s mandatory bid requirement to include pricing information for its listed subcontractors; and the bid “was materially defective as excessively unbalanced” based on nominal pricing for some work and enhanced prices for other work.
Additionally, the Epic complaint contends J.H. Williams failed to comply with the borough’s bid requirement to answer all items in the bidder disclosure statements.
The March 12 complaint was signed by George E. Pallas and Matthew L. Erlanger of the Philadelphia-based law firm Cohen, Seglias, Pallas, Greenhall and Furman, attorneys for Epic. It was before Ocean County Superior Court Judge Ronald Brenner via a video conference, in lieu of a hearing, on March 18.
Danielle Gordon of the Philadelphia-based law firm Armstrong Teasdale LLP is representing J.H. Williams in the matter. Christopher J. Connors of the Lacey Township-based law firm Dasti, Murphy, McGuckin, Ulaky, Koutsouris and Connors is representing the borough, according to filed court documents.
The outcome of the conference allowed Ship Bottom to award the construction contract to J.H. Williams on March 19, pending the disposition of Epic’s request for injunctive relief. The agreement stipulates the borough and its contractor will not take any further action on the project and J.H. Williams will incur no costs in conjunction with the project, according to the court proceeding.
Injunctive relief is defined as a “court-ordered act or prohibition against an act or condition which has been requested and sometimes granted, in a petition to the court for an injunction,” according to the legal definition.
Also pending the disposition of Epic’s request for injunctive relief, Epic will hold its bid prices for the project, as will J.H. Williams, which had until March 31 to file a brief in response to the memorandum of law submitted by Epic. Epic has until April 7 to reply to Williams’ brief before oral arguments on Epic’s request for injunctive relief is heard at 3 p.m. April 12, according to the order signed by Brenner.
In her March 31 response to Epic’s complaint, Gordon said “citing a slew of hyper-technical grievances, Epic Management seeks to have the court reverse the good judgment of a local government body, and force taxpayers to expend over half a million additional dollars on a public works project. Not only are Epic’s arguments legally baseless, they also lack credibility given the technical errors presented in Epic’s own bid. Epic’s bid should be denied and the borough’s decision to award the project to J.H. Williams Enterprises, Inc. should be upheld.”
Connors also responded March 31, saying, “The borough contends that the bid submission by J.H. Williams is the lowest responsive bid for the project and is in compliance with the LPCL (local public contracts law). Furthermore, any of the defects asserted by Epic are nonmaterial and waivable by the discretion of the borough.”
In 2018, Mayor William Huelsenbeck revived interest in a new municipal complex when he ordered a review of pre-Superstorm Sandy plans for the project at the existing location. He wanted to know if the plans were still viable and, if not, if there was an easy fix to keep those plans in place. When it became clear the plans would no longer work, officials decided on a new course of action.
The borough council awarded a contract to Elliot W. Goldstein of the Maplewood architectural firm The Goldstein Partnership in early 2019. He is under contract with the borough through the end of the year. The firm was selected because officials wanted a different perspective after revisiting the pre-Superstorm Sandy project to build a new municipal complex at the existing location.
The Goldstein Partnership worked on the municipal complex in Barnegat Township and in Monmouth County on the Brielle and Colts Neck municipal complexes.
In July 2019, the council adopted an ordinance appropriating $4 million for the project. Of the $4 million, the borough will cover the $200,000 down payment; the remaining $3.8 million will be bonded, according to Ordinance 2019-16.
— Gina G. Scala