On Monday, the Superior School Board approved nearly $21.5 million in contracts for the Superior High School construction project.
The total estimated budget for the high school renovations and addition is $57.4 million, leaving the school district with more than half of the funds still to allocate.
The Board is expected to vote on a second round of contracts at its May 8 meeting.
"Then we'll really be done with all of that process," said Janna Stevens, Superior school district administrator.
Six of the seven contracts awarded Monday went to the lowest bidder. The exception was the mechanical and plumbing contract, which proved to be the largest awarded at about $10.6 million.
Patrick Gallagher, senior project manager for construction firm Kraus-Anderson, said contracts are typically awarded to the low bidder. For the SHS electrical and mechanical contracts, however, companies went through a more rigorous "best value" assessment.
"It's a four-step process," Gallagher said. "It's a way to manage the risk on a very complex project."
Companies hoping to bid first filled out a pre-qualification form and then met with Kraus-Anderson for an interview. Bidders not eliminated from the process at that point went on to provide a bid estimate, after which Kraus-Anderson held a second round of interviews to discuss how the bidders would approach the project and remain within budget.
Jamar Company, based in Duluth, had the highest bid of the three companies competing for the mechanical and plumbing contract, but it performed best in the assessment process to win the bid recommendation.
Shannon's, Inc. had the lowest bid for the project. The International Falls company came in roughly $1.2 million lower than Jamar, while Stack Brothers — the second-lowest bidder — was about $200,000 lower.
Susan Quam, an employee of Jamar, addressed the Board Monday in support of the Duluth company.
"Jamar Company has been around for a long time, over 100 years," Quam said. "We have a very good record with safety and know that we can do this project well."
She added that Jamar employs 54 people who are residents of Superior, including the company's lead project manager.
"That local presence is something that we hold very dearly, and when we think about what's local we include Superior," Quam said.
Nearly all of the bidders vying for the electrical and mechanical contracts Monday came from the Twin Ports. Five of the six companies were based either in Superior or Duluth.
Duluth companies ended up winning both contracts, with Hunt Electric taking the electrical contract ($6.1 million) and Jamar Company taking the mechanical and plumbing contract.
The contracts for concrete and the security management system also went to Duluth companies, while Hermantown-based AG O'Brien won the fire suppression system contract.
The remaining two contracts — for building demolition and steel, respectively — went to Rachel Contracting, of St. Michael, Minn., and Red Cedar Steel Erectors, of Menomonie.
The Superior School Board voted unanimously Monday to approve the seven contracts with no discussion. Board member Michael Raunio was not present.
The Board also moved to table two alternates in the contracts related to the new gymnasium and lighting for the performing arts center. Together, the alternates totaled just over $300,000.
Those items will be considered when the Board meets to discuss the next phase of bids May 8. A time for the meeting has not yet been announced.