Last week, the Regional District of Central Kootenay awarded a contract for new office furniture to Graphic Office Interior Ltd., which is based in Vancouver Island, for $182,000. The agreement has come under fire since local company Cowan Office Supply of Nelson made a bid that was around $20,000 cheaper.
But chief administrator Brian Carruthers has defended the RDCK’s decision. Primarily, he cited the warranties and specifications that the two competing companies were offering.
According to Carruthers, Graphic Office Interior offered a 12-year warranty on fabric panels while Cowan’s was just 5 years and did not include shipping and labor. In addition, Cowan’s proposed workstation dividing panels were not tall enough. “It was determined that 54-inch panel height was desired and that 51 and 50 inch height panels provided too much visibility and distraction and less privacy,” he said.
On top of that, a three-member committee found that the workstation proposed by Cowan was not as user-friendly as the bid winner. A report generated by the committee stated, “Evaluation members tested Cowan’s workstation and found [the] product was not user friendly. Graphic Office workstation had reviews indicating [they were] very user friendly and one member tested and confirmed those findings.”
Despite the higher price tag, the entire committee voted to accept Graphic Office Supply’s bid.
“It was the decision of the three people who looked at everything independently and they reached the same conclusion,” Carruthers said. “We are purchasing 40 work stations — areas staff work in day in and day out. Is a $20,000 cheaper bid worth less of a warranty or sacrificing panel heights or height-adjustable stations that are difficult for users? We would not be going with a non-low bid if it was not value for the RDCK.”
For some, the explanation is not good enough to justify both the higher price and the decision to not select a local company.
“In conclusion, I believe it is even more evident now that the decision for the furniture purchase was ill-considered and badly made,” writes Kevin LePape in an editorial. “Mr. Carruthers’ weak and inaccurate defence has only served to shed more light on errors and omissions.”
Earlier on Friday, the RDCK district appointed an independent adjucator to review the decision and help decide whether the right choice was made, hopefully easing public concerns.