In an interesting case in Iowa, a contractor submitted a proposal to a county for design, programming, training and verification services, along with hardware components, for a new arena’s automation, fire alarm and security systems.

When the proposal was submitted, the county originally had taken the position that the contractor’s proposal did not require public bids, but after a competitor complained, the county reversed itself and required public bids for the items in question.

The contractor filed a declaratory relief action to determine whether the county was required to use a competitive bid for the arena’s building automation system.

The Iowa code section defined “public improvement” as “Any building or construction work, either within or outside the corporate limits of a county, to be paid for in whole or in part by the use of public funds of the county, regardless of sources, including a building or improvement constructed or operated jointly with any other public or private agency…”

The contractor’s position was that “building” is used as a verb, meaning to construct or erect. It is used in the sense of putting something together, which would mean building or work requiring a hands-on participation in the actual construction.

So, because a contractor would not be involved in actually installing the systems and hardware which it is supplying, it should be excluded from the statute by definition.

The court disagreed, stating that “building” and “construction” both modify the word “work” in the statute, and so work is used as a noun. In this form, it is defined to include, “bodily or mental effort exerted to do or make something.”

Therefore, the appellate court agreed with the district court that the plain meaning of the term “building or construction work” includes the furnishing of design and programming systems along with the hardware to implement the system.

Given that the building would not be habitable without the materials the contractor would provide, and it could not be used for its intended purpose nor could it be open to the public without the building control system, the trial court was correct in determining that the contractor’s proposal was a public improvement. Therefore, the court upheld the ruling of the district court, which granted summary judgment against the contractor’s declaratory relief action and determined that a competitive bid was required.

The moral of the story is to make sure you pay attention to your English teacher before you bid on a government job!