Busy Contractors Leave Bid Requests Unanswered

Wed August 31, 2005 - Southeast Edition

JACKSON, MS (AP) A construction boom in Mississippi and hurricane-ravaged areas in the Southeast have contractors so busy they’ve had difficulty bidding recent projects.

The dilemma hit the University of Mississippi Medical Center (UMC) in Jackson last month when bids for a $50- million project went unanswered.

“There’s such a tremendous amount of work out there [that] all the builders capable of building a project this size are booked up,” said John Bowman, UMC director of facilities.

Bowman said the project’s design team surveyed prospective contractors to determine why no one submitted a bid.

“They’re all tied up in south Alabama and Florida and have hundreds of millions in projects lined up,” he said. “It was bad timing on our part, as far as the market is concerned.”

The project called for constructing the Guyton Research Building, an eight-level, 195,000-sq.-ft. facility to be connected to a four-story facility named in honor of the late Arthur Guyton, a physiologist who helped found UMC.

“There aren’t that many contractors in state or out of state that can handle a project that size,” said Perry Nations, executive director of the state’s Associated General Contractors chapter. “The ones that can, probably had their bonding capacity full.”

Contractors must purchase a surety bond that guarantees they can complete a contract and pay the labor and material.

John Laws, president of Laws Construction in Flowood, said his company is being more selective about projects.

“The construction and reconstruction from the hurricanes that came through Florida, that’s taken a lot of the work force down there,” Laws said.

He also cited the timing of spring rains in Mississippi.

“The rain events were spread out just so that we couldn’t get any work done,” Laws said. “Then once the rain quit, all the work started coming at the same time.”

Frank Alley, who oversees construction for the state college board, said the UMC project was the first he could recall that failed to draw a bid.

“We’ve had some projects we’re just getting one bidder on,” he said. “It’s kind of a mess.”

The UMC project has been rebid. Bowman said one month’s delay likely will have little effect on the project’s cost, as contractors won’t be buying steel, concrete and other materials for a year or more.

Nations said construction began booming approximately five years ago. He said projects in Madison County and along Lakeland Drive in Rankin County likely are keeping the same subcontractors busy that a general contractor would use for a larger building project.