Four vendors, but no bids for bricks on Main Street

City staff given go-ahead to negotiate with companies for street surface materials

By BRUCE ALSOBROOK, News-Telegram Managing Editor

July 15, 2008 - Sulphur Springs City Manager Marc Maxwell and the city staff were given the go-ahead to negotiate with vendors for bricks to pave Main Street after none of the four companies asked to bid on the materials made a pitch.

"Generally speaking, brick vendors are used to dealing with contractors, not municipalities," Maxwell told City Council members, who met at noon today for a special meeting to consider bids for the Main Street paving materials. "I think they were a little afraid of the process."

Johnny Vance, director of community development for the city of Sulphur Springs, said he had conversations with each of the four potential bidders and had an inkling of what was to come.

"At the start I got a bad feeling from this," Vance told the council. "I'd say something about the bid process and they'd say, 'Huh?'"

Another problem seems to be the availability of the type of brick the city is seeking to use to pave Main Street, which is being rebuilt with the brick for both aesthetic reasons as well as to promote a safer environment for pedestrians. The feel of bricks have a psychological effect on drivers that tends to make them slow down, planners have said.

Clay bricks that meet standards set by the Texas Department of Transportation were sought in the bids, but that product is apparently not in high demand.

"Clay brick pavers for streets are just not a priority" for manufacturers, Vance told council members.

He also said the city wants to deal with a supplier that has the bricks in stock. One vendor that has ties to Sulphur Springs, for example, had almost, but not quite, enough to do the job. Vance said the manufacturer wouldn't be willing to "fire" a run of bricks of less than 100,000, when the city only needs about 25,000. That would also slow down the start of the paving work on the street.

"If they have to run it, that's going to delay the start of our project," Vance said.

The good news is the lack of bidders frees the city up to negotiate with individual vendors to try and locate the materials needed for the paving project. The city should also be able to seek out what staffers called a "commercial grade" brick. That product doesn't meet as high a standard as those set by Texas Department of Transportation, which requires bricks that can stand up to heavy truck traffic. Main Street, however, will be closed to trucks and shouldn't need that tough a product.

"I doubt the bricks that were originally on the square were up to TxDoT's standards," quipped Councilman Clay Walker, referring to the street surface that covered the downtown square until the mid 1990s.

Maxwell asked the council for permission for city staff to negotiate with companies for the bricks, Councilman Gary Spraggins making the motion to let them "wheel and deal and get the best price we can."

The measure passed by a unanimous voice vote.

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