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Idaho builders say BYU excluding them

Associated Press

REXBURG, Idaho — Idaho contractors say they’re being excluded from some work to expand Brigham Young University-Idaho, claiming the university has favored Utah firms as it’s made the transition to a four-year school from the two-year Ricks College.

The school, owned by the Salt Lake City-based Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, doesn’t have to advertise its bids, as is required of publicly funded universities and colleges.

The tiff between contractors and the university illustrates tensions that can arise between a church-supported school and contractors who feel they’re being left out of what was supposed to be an economic boon for eastern Idaho.

University officials say the church, which approves all construction projects, is giving bids to companies with whom it’s had good relationships in the past as it tries to curb cost overruns and protect money it considers sacred.

“You just have to have the Salt Lake City behind your name, or you’re just not there,” said Reed Miller, of Ormond Builders, an Idaho Falls construction company that has done work on the campus but feels left out of some of the most lucrative contracts.

The university countered that work has been divided evenly between contractors from Idaho and others from beyond the state’s borders.

Charles Andersen, the director of physical plant facilities at BYU-Idaho, said the college continues to hire eastern Idaho subcontractors.

“When you start looking at all the subcontractors, it’s probably about 50-50,” he said. “They’ve had a piece of each project.”

Any new construction at the college must go through three stages, Andersen said. First, there has to be approval to proceed with programming. Then the design has to be approved. Finally, the LDS church’s appropriations committee gives the green light for the project.

“These are sacred funds, and we have to be very careful with them,” Andersen said, adding it hasn’t been easy because of increases in the price of fuel and construction materials. “Some of these things were double-digit increases.”

There’s been plenty of work since the institution announced the switch to a four-year college in June 2000, and there’s more coming. For instance, remodeling on chemistry facilities that are part of the campus’s Romney building is due to begin in April. Other work is slated for this year, as well.

Idaho contractors want a hand in the projects.

“They (university officials) are allowed to do what they want to do,” said John Perkins, president of Commercial General, another Idaho Falls general contractor. “It’s the way the church has chosen to do business. Most of the new churches are being built by Utah contractors. I wish it wasn’t that way, but I don’t know what I can do about it.”

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