A quarter-million dollar federal project with a tight deadline for replacing the ballfield lights at Eastpoint’s Vrooman Park has been accompanied by controversy on several fronts.

The Crawfordville firm of Anytime Electric began work Tuesday morning on the $242,000 project, after county commissioners approved a change order to the original scope of work. That vote was 3-1, with Commissioner Smokey Parrish absent and Commissioner Pinki Jackel opposed.

Jackel on Tuesday voiced strong opposition to how the planning office handled the project, which landed in the county’s lap somewhat as a surprise on July 1. When Anytime was awarded the work July 18 over the only other bidder, Alternative Electric, of Eastpoint, Jackel also voted no, urging the county to give preference to the local bidder.

“I know we were under time constraints but I think it is unfortunate, as badly as our folks and contractors in Franklin County need work, that we have to go outside the county and award this bid to another contractor,” she said July 18.

Jackel stepped up her criticism Tuesday, in concert with her no vote on the change order, which altered the work from 82 LED lights, to 86 1000-watt pulse start metal halide lights.

“These lights were readily available by a local provider and (Assistant County Planner) Mark (Curenton) still did not open it up to a local contractor,” she said. “I believe it is our responsibility to spend money locally. This commission has done everything we were supposed to and staff has boxed us in.

“The upshot is $250,000 is leaving the county that could have been spent locally,” said Jackel. “In the future I hope we do not repeat this terrible mistake. I’m not saying you have to do what I say but you have to listen to me. On decisions of this nature I think the board needs to make this decision.”

The scenario surrounding the lights is a complicated one, beginning with a late afternoon call just prior to the Independence Day holiday from the Office of Energy within the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.

State officials said the $242,000 project, funded by federal stimulus dollars, required the work result in energy savings, use only American-made parts and be completed by Aug. 30.

Given that tight time frame, the planning department decided to forego the usual two weeks of advertising in the local newspaper, and instead, with the blessing of the county commissioners, emailed bid packages to all the electrician licensed in Franklin County and with email addresses.

Only Anytime and Alternative submitted bids by the July 15 deadline, but both were over the $242,000 maximum. As is typically the protocol, the planning office began negotiations with Anytime, the low bidder.

On July 18, Jackel asked County Planner Alan Pierce to read into the record a letter from Mary and Ken Seymour, owners of Alternative. They said the “timeline and specifications of the work to be performed were not sufficient to prepare an accurate bid for a project of this magnitude.”

They said the federal requirements of the Davis-Bacon Act, which require that prevailing wages be paid, were difficult to meet because of the problem in getting precise numbers from the U.S. Department of Labor. The Seymours said that because they were not the low bidder, they were prevented by the planning office from discussing value engineering ideas to go with a less expensive light fixture.

“In the future we will follow the example of all of the other Franklin County electrical contractors and will no longer waste our time bidding any projects requiring federal prevailing wages or bonding,” they wrote.

The planning office has defended its decision regarding how it handled talks with the low bidder, stressing that federal projects do not allow for showing a preference for local bidders, and that the extreme time crunch made it impossible to rebid the project once the need for modifications became apparent.

As it turned out, Anytime had to modify its bid considerably, because the LED lights specified in the original bid were not suitable for outdoor use on a ballfield and the manufacturer would not release them for this purpose.

It was agreed to modify the project from 101 LED lights down to 86 pulse start metal halide lights, Curenton said, noting that such a change in the specs would have called for a rebid under a typical scenario. He said that he talked with all five of the commissioners about the progress of the discussions with Anytime, and that a majority of them favored moving ahead with the project and avoiding the risk of losing the quarter-million funding.

While LED lights are known to be expensive, the cost of the metal halide lights did raise concern. An invoice from Rexel electrical supplies in Tallahassee shows the 86 ABS Lighting Series 9000 lights cost about $181,000, including tax, which comes out to about $2,100 each.

In an appearance at Tuesday’s meeting. Ken Seymour said the county was overpaying for the light fixtures. “These halides are about a quarter of the cost,” he said. You should be able to get them for $500.”

He also stressed that “when they changed that scope of work they should have gotten bids.”

Whether Seymour’s cost estimate is on the mark is unclear. The new metal halide fixture is an American-made specialty sports lighting fixture expected to result in $5,000 a year in energy savings as well as maintenance savings.

Backing up Seymour’s contention on Tuesday was Don Edwards, owner of Certified Electrical Supply, with offices in Live Oak and Eastpoint.

In an earlier email to Curenton, Edwards wrote that the metal halide fixtures each should run $1,700 cheaper than the original LED lights, and thus should lead to a $146,000 reduction in costs on the project.

“You changed the rules in the middle of the game,” Edwards wrote. “The original low bidder, Anytime Electric, kept the same price. Something seems wrong with that scenario.”

Edwards argued that local bidders should be given the bid if they are within 10 percent of the winning out-of-town bidder, a viewpoint not necessarily in keeping with federal guidelines.