Capitol contractors floor local marble, choosing foreign producer

A decision by state contractors to use marble produced in China for the renovation of the state Capitol has upset Marble City's Mayor, causing her to fire off a series of emails to legislators in protest.

Marble City Mayor Tamara Hibbard said Tuesday she found it disturbing that Chinese marble had been selected over Oklahoma marble for the new flooring project at the state Capitol, in particular marble produced by Marble City and Polycor.

Hibbard said she has sent out an email to as many legislators, officials or anyone who might be able to get something done, or review the bidding process. She has contacted Rep. John Bennett, Sen. Mark Allen, Sen. Roger Thompson and Gov. Mary Fallon, among others.

At the heart of the dispute is 25,000 square feet of marble flooring. According to reports, the Capitol Restoration project wanted to spend $3.5 million on flooring.

One of the bids submitted was from Polycor, the company that produces marble from the quarry near Marble City.

According to other news sources, the project manager Trait Thompson said in an email to legislators Polycor's initial bid came in at $2 million over the budgeted amount. The bid was subsequently rejected and the primary contractor, Manhattan Construction, rebid the flooring contract.

Thompson was quoted in The Oklahoman as saying, “In the second bid package, Polycor's prices were so high that no subcontractor chose to use their product in their submission. All respondents chose to use marble sourced from other areas.”

The Oklahoman article said Manhattan chose the winning bid that came in $10,000 under the budget cost. Thompson said the Chinese marble is “superior to the quality of the Polycor product in every measurement category,” including bulk density, water absorption and strength.

Hibbard feels just the opposite, that the Marble City stone is superior to the Chinese stone. She said in her email (forwarded to Your TIMES), that Marble City was built around the “high-quality” marble that was mined in the area in the late 1800s. Marble City was founded in 1903. 

“The Polycor quarry employs local men and contributes to the economy of our town, our county and our state. I grew up with the guys that work out there,” Hibbard said.

Citing information she obtained from the architectural sales manager of Polycor Brian Thorburn, Hibbard said marble quarried in Marble City was selected by FSB Architects and the general contractor, Manhattan Construction as the basis for design for the stone flooring at the state Capitol. She said roughly 15,000 square feet of Oklahoma marble  was selected to be used alongside Alabama white marble already found through the Capitol building.

“Polycor spent more than a year consulting with the architects and general contractor to help identify and select the stone, providing them with technical assistance, budget costing, samples, a full mock-up and even a visit to the quarry in Marble City and to their fabrication facilities,” Hibbard said in her email. “After the bid results were announced (last week), they learned that the stone flooring was being substituted  with foreign (Chinese) stone as a way to save costs – this, despite the fact that Polycor had provided budget pricing at the outset of the selection process.”

Thorburn confirmed Hibbard's statement, adding that he wasn't for sure it was even a Chinese firm that won the bid. He said there was talk of using a Chinese company but he didn't know for sure.    

Thorburn said the company is obviously disappointed and there will likely be no further action on Polycor's part. “We would love it if they changed their mind. There are a lot of guys at the plant that would like it. We would be happy to supply it. We are disappointed for sure,” he said.

Thorburn estimated about 10 to 14 people worked at the Marble City quarry, depending on production volume. 

Hibbard said she understands that budget constraints are of great importance in these types of projects, “but short-term savings by making a last-minute substitute for inferior foreign products can also have a very important impact on the local and domestic economy. We would be proud to see the stone quarried in Marble City see its way to the historic floor of the Oklahoma State Capitol,” she said.

As of Tuesday, Hibbard said she had only heard back from Sen. Roger Thompson, who serves on the oversight committee. She said Thompson told her he would look into the legalities of the bidding process.

“By selecting foreign materials over local materials for our own state Capitol, what message is that sending to Oklahomans. Does supporting 'Made in Oklahoma' businesses mean something different when it comes to our own state Legislature?” Hibbard said.

Rep. John Bennett, R-Sallisaw, said he and Sen. Mark Allen have been working on the issue since it came to light.

“We are both very concerned and are adamantly against using foreign marble over American marble, especially from China,” Bennett said. “The biggest roadblock is if the bid numbers are factual, and all state laws are followed, it will be a tough challenge to overcome. We support our local marble producers and have encouraged the project manager to use all means possible to use Oklahoma marble first. We're still in the fight.”

Bennett said he has requested all information concerning the project and bidding process to determine if all legal procedures were followed.

Allen could not be reached for comment before press time.

Sequoyah County Times

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