$497,000 bid for ASU job left off chart; stadium audiovisual deal went to firm citing $533,000

The Red Wolves Foundation and Arkansas State University received a lower bid than previously reported for audiovisual work on the university's football stadium expansion.

Sound Concepts of Jonesboro submitted a low price of $497,000. The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reported Saturday that another company had submitted the lowest bid, based on a "quote comparisons" chart that officials circulated after Sound Concepts' lower bid had been submitted.

The $497,000 bid was not included in that chart and did not win the contract.

Another Sound Concepts bid that was listed on the chart won the contract, records show and interviews confirmed. The chart listed two other proposals from Sound Concepts and one from HomeTroniX, a Jonesboro company owned by a wealthy ASU booster.

The chart was the subject of emailed discussion within ASU's athletics department over which bid was best, records show.

The Democrat-Gazette first reported Saturday on how the contract was awarded after ASU System President Chuck Welch apologized to Mark Fowler, the Jonesboro booster, for how the process was handled. The newspaper reported that HomeTroniX submitted the lowest bid at $517,000, which was included on the chart.

Fowler vowed to stop contributing to the university after HomeTroniX lost in its bid for what became a $533,000 deal between the Red Wolves Foundation and Sound Concepts.

Foundation and ASU officials who managed the bid process acted with "deception and dishonesty," Fowler told the newspaper.

The foundation, which supports ASU athletics, is paying for the $29 million stadium expansion project. Because it is spending private money, the foundation maintains that it is not subject to the same Arkansas contract procurement laws that are in place when public money is spent.

Adam Haukap, the foundation's director, worked alongside ASU's assistant athletic director, Richard Zvosec, to vet bids for the audiovisual work and other expansion-related contracts, the records show.

Welch, in a text message to Fowler, said he was "embarrassed and deeply sorry" after an ASU "investigation" into the bidding process, according to copies of the text provided by Fowler and confirmed by a system spokesman.

"We verified everything you said, and that is not at all how either of us want to do business," Welch wrote on March 15, referring to ASU Chancellor Kelly Damphousse. Welch later made a promise to ensure "certain processes" are followed for future foundation contract business.

Among the claims that Welch said he verified: Fowler was told before bidding that a specific theater automation brand called Crestron Electronics was not a requirement, only to be told when his bid was rejected that his exclusion of the brand played a factor.

Chris Woodard, president of the Red Wolves Foundation board of directors, released a statement on behalf of the board Tuesday evening that said the "bidding process was handled in an appropriate manner." Woodard said the board would not comment further.

"Let us state unequivocally, that at no time has the Red Wolves Foundation, or its designated representatives, lied or acted dishonestly in regard to accepting bids (or in any other manner) as it relates to the bidding of work for the North Endzone Expansion," it says.

ASU System spokesman Jeff Hankins, athletics department spokesman Jerry Scott and Sound Concepts President Ryan Heringer asked the newspaper to clarify its original story to say that Sound Concepts submitted the lowest bid. Hankins said "this very relevant information" was omitted from the story.

Heringer, in a letter provided by his attorney, wrote that not including the information could lead a reader to believe that the foundation "went with a higher bid from Sound Concepts for some inappropriate reason."

Records show that Heringer's Jonesboro firm submitted a bid for $497,000 on Jan. 26, or $20,000 less than HomeTroniX's lowest bid. Hankins said that proposal offered an operating system "similar" to what HomeTroniX proposed; neither included Crestron.

On Feb. 2, ASU's director of football media, Chris Buttgen, emailed Zvosec a word document called "New Facility Quote Comparisons."

A copy of the document, obtained by the Democrat-Gazette, shows three Sound Concepts proposals ranging from $533,000 to $649,000. It also shows one HomeTroniX proposal, with a handwritten cost of $517,000, which is the lowest price on the chart.

Sound Concept's $497,000 proposal, which had been submitted one week earlier, is not listed on the chart. The firm's $533,000 proposal, dated Feb. 2, is on the chart, which also shows an itemized list of how much equipment would go in each of the new building's rooms.

All three Sound Concept proposals on the "quote comparisons" chart relied on the Crestron system, while the HomeTroniX proposal was for a system called Control4.

The Sound Concepts proposal not included on the chart proposed an ELAN Home Systems operating system, which Hankins said is "similar" to the system HomeTroniX suggested.

Zvosec responded to Buttgen on Feb. 3, asking whether they were "getting less in the low bid from sound concepts then home Tronics" and which package Buttgen "liked best."

"The lower of the sound concepts is perfect," Buttgen replied, later adding that it had more than HomeTroniX's proposal. "That's the one I would go with."

The Red Wolves Foundation ultimately chose Sound Concepts' $533,000 proposal, although the contract has not been finalized, Haukap said Friday. The foundation was not required to grant the contract to the lowest bidder, and price was one factor of a broader review, Haukap said.

"We had to look at low bid, we had to look at previous relationship, we had to look at technical ability," he previously said. "I think we went through a good process. It's the process we've gone through with every other service vendor that we've worked with."

HomeTroniX was informed Feb. 20 that it lost the bid, Fowler said.

On March 8, Welch sent a text message to Fowler that said, "I am working on what we discussed," according to Fowler's record of the conversation.

Also that day, Haukap sent an email to ASU Athletic Director Terry Mohajir about the contract. Haukap included as an attachment the same "quote comparison" chart that did not include the lowest Sound Concept proposal.

"HT price was $517k, but had fewer tv's, smaller tv's and a control4 system (Not Crestron)," Haukap wrote in that email.

Haukap did not respond to a voice mail Tuesday. Hankins did not respond to several questions emailed to him after he requested the clarification.

Crestron is the same system Sound Concepts installed when it won the contract for the stadium's press box renovation, a project that wrapped up in 2015, according to Haukap and Heringer.

Hankins, Scott and Heringer, through his attorney, also assert that HomeTroniX could not have included Crestron in its bid because it is not a licensed dealer or service provider of the brand. They said it would have voided the warranty.

Fowler said that if he had been told Crestron was required for a successful bid, he would have partnered with a separate company that is licensed to sell and service the brand for that portion of the work. He said the warranty would not have been voided.

Metro on 03/28/2018

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