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The curious case of lowest bid vs. best value
The Cleaning Industry's Take on Professional Bldg. Maintenance Corp. v. School Board, by Dan Wagner.

Date published: 10/7/2012

IN 2000, Virginia's General Assembly amended the Public Procurement Act (PPA) to introduce the concept of "best value," in which price is one of several factors to consider when awarding a service contract for a public institution. According to the amendment, "best value" refers to the overall combination of quality, price, and other specific elements that meet the public body's needs.

However, last spring, the Virginia Supreme Court issued a decision overturning the Spotsylvania County School Board's award of a custodial services contract to a cleaning service provider that the board deemed to offer "best value." Basing its decision on the PPA and its requirement that the "lowest responsive and responsible bidder" be selected, the Supreme Court ruled that the board erred in failing to accept the lowest bid.

When seeking bids for custodial services for various county schools, the Spotsylvania County School Board published a "Best Value Invitation for Bid," stating that the School Board would utilize the PPA's "best value" criteria to select the winning bidder. While Professional Building Maintenance Corp. (PBM) submitted the lowest-priced bid, the School Board awarded the contract to another bidder that met the broader "best value" criteria they considered.

BPM filed a formal bid protest and ultimately sued the School Board. The suit was rejected by a lower court, but the Virginia Supreme Court's decision overturned that ruling and granted PPM the contract.

At face value, it's hard to argue with the court's decision because PBM was the lowest bidder for the custodial services contract. However, in selecting its cleaning services provider, the Spotsylvania County School Board considered a multitude of factors and set up a system that awarded "points" for the bidder's experience, proposed equipment and supplies, quality control programs, and price. Ultimately, the bid was awarded to the company that achieved the highest score, as the board determined it was the "best value bidder." The Virginia Supreme Court rejected the use of the "best value procurement" doctrine when it concluded that the board failed to make the correct decision.

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