Casper City Council approved two contracts during a special meeting Tuesday.

The first contract was for $940,000 with Grizzly Excavating and Construction LLC for utility site work in anticipation of the YMCA's major expansion.

"We needed to approve our piece in that and get it formally approved and passed so that we can start on the infrastructure improvements which basically involve street lights and street changes and a retaining wall to hold the dirt back," Mayor Charlie Powell said after the meeting.

"They (Grizzly) needed us to get our piece done so they can get started on theirs," Powell said.

The city owns the land on the southeastern corner of East 15th and South Beech streets, and the nonprofit YMCA leases it.

YMCA and public officials held a groundbreaking ceremony Wednesday to formally launch the  $14 million expansion to replace or enhance its aging facilities. The new YMCA will feature a 38,000-square-foot building with a field house, wellness center, group exercise studios, child care facility and a membership lounge.

In February YMCA trustees asked the city to support the project with about $1.7 million for infrastructure improvements.

The city received two bids: Hedquist Construction submitted a bid for $703,490; and Grizzly submitted a bit for $881,933.

The city normally awards the contract to the lowest bidder, but it has the discretion not to do so depending on the city's interest. In a memo to City Manager John Patterson, public services director Andrew Beamer stated Hedquist Construction has underperformed on four other city projects.

In addition to the $881,933 for the contract itself, the city authorized a contract contingency amount of $58,067 to bring the total to $940,000.

Before the vote on the contract, Craig Hedquist's attorney Mike Lansing spoke to the council. (Hedquist did not attend the meeting, and council voted to not approve his absence.)

Lansing agreed the city had to seek damages against Hedquist Construction. But he said the memo from Beamer to Patterson has been cited in several recent decisions to turn down Hedquist Construction's low bids. Lansing wondered if council was doing this out of spite and because of the pending federal lawsuit by Hedquist against Patterson.

Judith Studer, who was acting as city attorney, told council members anything they said might affect the litigation.

With no further discussion, council approved the contract with Robin Mundell voting no.

Powell defended the decision, saying the council had to look at the price and the track record of the bidders, he said. "The track record of the lowest bidder has been poor, and we want to make sure the project gets done on time."

Besides the construction contract, the city also awarded a $27,000 contract to Strategic Government Resources of Keller, Texas, to conduct a search for the next city manager. Patterson has announced he will retire as of Nov. 1.

The contract requires Strategic Government Resources to attract candidates, narrow that to 12 semifinalists and then six finalists, conduct background checks, and prepare interview questions.