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As part of the federal government’s recent economic stimulus package, significant funds have become available for public school construction. In order to take advantage of these stimulus funds, contractors who wish to work on public school construction in Florida must become “prequalified.” See e.g., Florida Statute §1013.46. This article offers a brief overview of the purpose for prequalification, what it means and how it works.

§4.1(8) of Florida’s “State Requirements for Educational Facilities.” The purpose of the prequalification process is to make a pool of qualified contractors available to local school districts to construct school projects and to avoid problems during the construction process by ensuring that contractors meet certain standards. Before the adoption of these requirements any contractor could bid a public school project and the school board simply had to accept the lowest bidder even if the school board had reason for concern about the contractor’s ability to perform the work.

With the advent of the prequalification process, each school district administers a prequalification process whereby contractors are required to prequalify for either a one year term or for a specific project. Among the factors considered by the school district as part of the prequalification process are: whether the contractor is licensed for the work; the financial capability of the contractor to complete the project and pay damages if defaulted; the bonding capacity of the contractor; the contractor’s experience with projects of similar size within the last five years; and the contractor’s history of satisfactory claims resolution.

In addition to these considerations, the contractor must submit a detailed, sworn application (i.e., subject to the penalties of perjury). The application must include among other things, a public entity crime statement and references, current financial information on the contractor, information about the contractor’s principals, the contractor’s license and projects completed within the last five years, certificates of insurance and a description and explanation of all pending litigation, as well as litigation within the last five years.

Contractors who fulfill these requirements generally receive a certificate for one year, or the duration of a specific project. Annual certificates may be renewed. As part of the renewal process the school district will request updated financial statements and bonding capacity information. Failure to comply with a request for updated information within 30 days will result in revocation of the contractor’s certificate.

Other grounds for revocation or suspension of a contractor’s prequalification status include: Providing false or inaccurate information in the application; default; bankruptcy; unsatisfactory performance; failure to make timely payments to subcontractors; or license suspension or revocation.

A contractor who is denied prequalification status has the right to appeal the adverse determination. In order to effectively exercise the right to appeal, however, the contractor must move quickly and comply with all the procedural requirements of the particular school district and appellate tribunals. If appellate rights are not timely perfected, they are forever waived. Beyond that, of course, the contractor must show the existence of reversible error in the school district’s denial of prequalification status.

In short, contractors wishing to prequalify for public school construction projects should take great care to comply with all of the requirements of the pre-qualification process.