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No fun and games

A Grants Pass-based playground equipment maker is accusing the Ashland Parks and Recreation Department of squandering tens of thousands of taxpayer dollars and sending money out of the area by choosing a Minnesota company for new Garfield Park playground equipment.

However, parks officials said they followed a fair process in choosing the out-of-state company and did not allow the local company, Krauss Craft Inc., to come in with a later offer to undercut Minnesota-based Landscape Structures Inc.

The fight erupted in the public eye on Thursday when Krauss Craft ran an advertisement in the Daily Tidings saying it could provide playground equipment at Garfield park for $43,727 that would be nearly identical to a $68,657 jungle gym from Landscape Structures.

Krauss Craft had previously been awarded the job to install a new playground structure at Lithia Park's children's playground.

It hoped to also get the job at Garfield Park on East Main Street because of the company's competitive prices and high quality, and because it is a Rogue Valley business, said Kurt Krauss, chief executive officer of Krauss Craft.

C.J. Schatza, chief operating officer for Krauss, said employees donated money to cover the $1,000 cost of the Tidings ad.

"We have employees who live in Ashland and Medford. It's a very local issue. It's a very personal issue," Schatza said. "It hit so close to home."

Parks Director Don Robertson said different companies were invited to submit designs and costs for the playground at Garfield Park in late 2012.

Krauss Craft submitted several designs, with a best price of $66,305, Robertson said.

A committee of parks employees selected a design by Landscape Structures that cost $68,705, he said.

The Minnesota company's design was chosen to provide a variety of experiences in Ashland's parks and because the structure was lower, which would make users feel more comfortable, Robertson said.

Krauss Craft was notified that it didn't get the job. It then asked to see the winning design and cost, Robertson said.

Robertson said it's not unusual for losing companies to ask for publicly available information about winning designs and costs. That could allow them to compete better for future jobs.

But Krauss Craft wanted to offer a duplicate of the winning design at a lower cost after Landscape Structures had already been selected, Robertson said.

"Shopping quotes at the public level is not ethical, and I question its legality," he said. "I don't know of any public agency that says, 'I got this price. Can you beat it?' "

While people can do that in their personal lives, the city of Ashland could face legal action for that behavior, Robertson said.

Krauss said he considered his company's original price quotes and design offerings to be preliminary.

He expected the Parks Department to have further rounds in which companies could tweak their designs to fit department's preferences, and he also thought companies could submit further price quotes.

Krauss said that is often done in the playground equipment industry.

In the Tidings ad, Krauss Craft said it is a local provider of more than 130 family-wage jobs.

The ad said Ashland and state laws allow the city to consider whether a company is local when awarding work.

The ad urged Ashland residents to contact their local officials and push for the cancellation of the Landscape Structures order.

Even with a 30 percent restocking fee for the canceled order, Ashland could save money, the ad said.

Robertson said it is far too late to cancel the order for the playground equipment, which he expects will arrive any day.

Landscape Structures has already manufactured the equipment and booked trucks to deliver it, Robertson said.

On its website, Landscape Structures said it is a 100 percent employee-owned company that is proud to manufacture equipment in America to be sold in this country and around the world.

Krauss Craft is also a leading national and international seller of playground equipment.

Krauss said he does have some fear that running the newspaper ad and publicizing the dispute with Ashland parks officials could risk alienating other cities that buy equipment from his company.

But he said his company has strong relationships with other cities.

"It affects the employees of this company, and that's why it has gotten to this point," Schatza said.

Staff reporter Vickie Aldous can be reached at 541-479-8199 or vlaldous@yahoo.com.