HANO chief raises eyebrow but approves contract with Hamp’s

The Housing Authority of New Orleans awarded a contract to Hamp’s Construction LLC on Tuesday for the next phase of demolition work at the B.W. Cooper Housing Development, but not before the authority’s leader expressed some concern about the wide variation in submitted bids and sought assurance from staff that Hamp’s hadn’t deliberately underestimated its costs to win the contract.

David Gilmore, the authority’s one-man board, has butted heads with Hamp’s before. He reluctantly awarded a contract to the company in 2010, after first disqualifying the firm because its owner had pleaded guilty to illegal dumping in a wetland, according to published reports. HANO received six bids on a project to demolish multiple residential buildings at the B.W. Cooper site. Hamp’s submitted the lowest bid: $967,100. The highest bid, $1.75 million, was from Durr Heavy Construction. The government estimate for the job was $1.2 million. The staff recommended awarding the contract to Hamp’s as the “lowest responsive” bidder.

“I raise the question only because when there is this kind of a gap between bids, and especially in a case where the bid is below the government estimate, you always worry about a low-balled bid which then winds up being a change order,” HANO administrative receiver Gilmore said. “Can you make me feel comfortable about that?”

HANO’s director of real estate, planning and development, Desiree Andrepont, said Hamp’s had submitted all requested information, used proper forms and been otherwise compliant throughout the bid process. The company does not have a history of change order requests in its most recent work with HANO, Andrepont said.

“We don’t have any basis for concern right now that anything is omitted from this bid,” Andrepont said. “So to the extent that we can check to make sure that they followed all of the requests of the bid documents, we have done that.”

Hamp’s has won numerous construction contracts with HANO. But the company has faced a fair bit of controversy. In 2009, owner Charlie Hampton was arrested for submitting false asbestos inspection certifications to the state Department of Environmental Quality for 10 HANO-owned properties he had been hired to inspect. Hampton also has pleaded guilty to illegal dumping and to allowing illegal materials to flow into a wetland in eastern New Orleans, a violation of federal law, according to The Times-Picayune.

The company’s spotty history prompted Gilmore to disqualify the firm from a construction contract in 2010. A judge ruled, however, that HANO could not bar the firm from competition without first giving Hampton the opportunity to speak at a hearing.

Gilmore ultimately approved the award to Hamp’s on Tuesday, saying that he would trust the HANO staff, despite finding the disparity between the highest and lowest bids odd. Demolition will begin in September.