The principals of the local consortium behind the unsuccessful tender to manage Tenterfield Pool have welcomed the Lavea family who will be looking after the facility, with high hopes that the new contractors will implement the changes they themselves were aiming for.
They’ve been left bewildered by the process, however, feeling they were used as a vehicle for changes to be implemented by council.
Vicki and Lawrence Zappa and Jenny and Darrin Petrie led a group of 15 people in the bid. They said they were approached by a councillor last season who had been fielding concerns about the pool’s potential being maximised.
They later met with him and council representatives and another community member to discuss suggestions for its improvement. They had no intention at that time of putting up their hand to manage it.
They feel the matters discussed in that meeting – drawing on their knowledge of the pool and of the community – have helped shape the draft pool management plan and the tender document, although they see a number of discrepancies between the two.
When they saw the management of the pool was up for tender they quickly organised a group with what they considered to be the necessary qualifications and experience to meet the tender specifications. Mrs Petrie said this in itself was a challenge, given the management contract was in such a specialised field and spans only eight months of the year.
“But we gathered the knowledge base, including two past pool managers, to take the pool forward,” she said.
“We thought if no-one else is going to put in a bid, someone has to.”
She estimates it took 120 hours of combined effort to put together their tender in a tight three-week time frame.
Local Government Procurement (LGP) was tasked by council to manage the tendering process. Mrs Petrie said that despite the tender being advertised 1100 times, only 90 people accessed the document online and six people downloaded it (all bar one of whom were in the consortium) and only one bid was forthcoming. She puts this down to the rural location of the pool and the limited season.
After meeting the tender’s closing date, Mrs Petrie said she had to chase a decision on the outcome which did not come within the promised two-week time frame. By this time the pool opening date was fast-approaching and the consortium knew they had a lot of organising to do should they be successful.
Despite the group being able to demonstrate experience and expertise in various aspects of the pool’s operations (the Zappas already run a private swim school, and Mrs Petrie manages her and her husband’s water and sewage plumbing business), she said they weren’t confident of success due to the complexity of the tender document including some misleading information and many grey areas.
Nine days past deadline they were informed their bid was unsuccessful. In a phone conference with LGP and council staff Mrs Petrie said they were told their bid had scored moderate-to-high in most items except for asset management, in that they didn’t have experience running a public pool despite having members on the team who did.
Mrs Petrie said they’re frustrated that they can’t even get a straight answer on whether they had a ‘non-conforming’ bid (meaning they were disqualified on one or more items).
She feels any criticism levelled on the group for inexperience in chemical handling and equipment management and maintenance was unfounded. Mr Petrie is a qualified plumber with a Certificate IV in waters and wastewater operations and diploma in operational works (local government).
He project-managed the installation of both the Urbenville water treatment plant and Tenterfield sewage treatment plant during his time on council from 2000-2010, actually oversaw the induction of past pool managers and was responsible for any capital works required at the pool. He now works in plants handling Class 1 chemicals such as ammonia-nitrate, so Class 8 chlorine shouldn’t be a problem.
The consortium was also happy to negotiate with council on the contract price, but never got the opportunity.
“We provided full resumes,” Mrs Petrie said. “Did they read them?
“We offered to undertake a trial period, we were happy to take on any additional training they required.
“We just feel we were used as a vehicle to sort out some of the problems that should have been fixed years ago.”
Mrs Petrie said after the bid failed they were stunned to receive reports from people on the consortium’s key personnel list that council had contacted them directly to ask if they were interested in running the pool.
“We wanted the pool to come back to life and run as a harmonious community asset, and on meeting the new managers we’re confident that these are the people to deliver on that and we welcome them,” Mrs Petrie said.
“We’re excited to see how it unfolds, we only hope that council can match their enthusiasm.
“It’s just the way we’ve been treated in the process. It’s a small town, everyone knows who we are, and we pride ourselves on wanting the best for the local asset and the wider community and take offence to some comments made that we are not happy with the chosen new management.
“It was the process and the way it was handled that was unsettling for us as locals which has left us wondering how trustworthy the process actually is.
“The new managers beam a welcoming vibe already and their enthusiasm and support for our local community that they barely know is admirable. We wish them the very best in their new venture and we are so excited to watch the local community asset thrive under the new management.”
Council’s chief corporate officer Kylie Smith encouraged the principals of the consortium to lodge a formal complaint with council to have any concerns addressed through its formal process, which she said is taken very seriously.
This would then initiate an investigation into what unfolded with the aim of resolving any issues, although those involving the tendering process itself would be a matter for LPG or the ombudsman.
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