A new community center in Charleston's West Side neighborhood, designed to some of the highest environmentally friendly standards, will be built by NBM Construction at a cost of $5.5 million.
The City Council approved the contract Tuesday night after a lengthy discussion about the role of minority-owned businesses in the bidding process.
The 24,000-square-foot Arthur W. Christopher Community Center will be twice the size of the old Arthur Christopher City Gymnasium, which the city sold to The Citadel in 2006 for $2.2 million.
Partially funded with federal stimulus money, the building on Fishburne Street across from Burke High School is designed to meet U.S. Green Building Council standards. It will feature solar panels to heat the adjacent Herbert Hassell city pool, extra insulation, cabinets made of wheatboard and tile and cement partially made from recycled materials.
Several councilmen, in particular Jimmy Gallant, questioned whether minority-owned firms were given a fair shot at the work, and questioned why NBM has won yet another large city contract. NBM also renovated City Hall and the Dock Street Theatre.
Gallant said the city should have directly contacted local minority-owned general contracting firms to encourage them to bid and suggested they could have been unaware of the community center job.
"I'm just wondering when we're going to have all this diversity we keep talking about," he said.
Councilmen James Lewis and William Dudley Gregorie also questioned the selection of NBM, which was the lowest bidder.
Mayor Joe Riley said the project was advertised in several newspapers for two weeks, and about 50 companies attended a pre-bidding conference.
"If there was a contractor in South Carolina that didn't know about this job, they weren't reading any newspapers or anything," he said.
Riley said asking why NBM keeps getting contracts is like asking why Tiger Woods wins golf tournaments.
"In my opinion, it's certainly not political, and I think they're doing a great job," said Councilman Larry Shirley.
In 2007, when NBM won a $14.8 million contract for the Dock Street Theatre, the vote was split along racial lines.
For the community center project, NBM said minority-owned subcontracting firms will get more than 21 percent of the work, worth nearly $1.2 million.
The council unanimously approved the contract.
In other business, the council adopted a resolution calling on the state Department of Transportation to reduce the speed limit on Folly Road, between Wappoo Creek and U.S. Highway 17, from 40 to 35 mph.