The state of Rhode Island has contracted two new companies to deliver bottled water to the University of Rhode Island and other higher education institutions across the state.
The contract with Poland Springs, URI’s previous provider, expired at the end of 2017. There were rumors that Poland Springs stopped delivering their products to campus because URI refused to pay the bill.
Tracy Angell, interim director of purchasing, said the rumors were completely false and that the issue with Poland Springs was on the company’s end, not the University’s.
The Assistant Vice President of Business Services, J. Vernon Wyman, said government procurement regulations would stop the University from simply breaking a contract because they wish to use a different company. Except for extenuating circumstances, the University must go through a solicitation process for almost all business deals.
“We have very good vendor relations because we do a good job of promptly paying our bills, so our contractors don’t have that as an argument in terms of service delivery,” Wyman said.
The contract for bottled water vendors is negotiated at the state level. Angell said the billing and delivery issues were statewide with Poland Springs, which is why new vendors were found when the previous contract expired. “I know it didn’t end on a good note, but it was rebid and rewarded to two new vendors,” Angell said.
The two new vendors being used on campus are ReadyRefresh and Adonai Spring Water. Their contracts will be valid until Nov. 30, 2020. Adonai is a Minority or Women-Owned Business that is certified through the State’s Office of Diversity, Equality and Opportunity. Since Adonai is a Minority or Women-Owned Business, Angell said the company received a slight preference from the state in the bidding process. ReadyRefresh, which is better known as Nestle, is a significantly larger vendor.
The contract with Nestle and Adonai is for the need of water coolers or bottled water in academic and administrative buildings. The water coolers are mostly used in buildings where the only form of drinking water is a sink.
“Primarily, the water coolers are used in buildings that aren’t equipped with water fountains,” Wyman said. “We really don’t have as many of those in the older buildings.”
Adonai was the lowest bidder for the contract, but the small size of the company caused the state to also award Nestle a contract in order to assure a large enough supply.
“Nestle was slightly more,” Angell said. “Adonai was also a very small start up company so [the state] wanted to give them an opportunity, but were also afraid there was some concern over whether they’d be able to handle the volume of all state agencies.”
There have been no issues with Nestle so far. However, Adonai struggled with not having enough supplies or the ability to stock all the locations they were given. Wyman said that on a typical workday, there are approximately 23,000 people on URI’s Kingston campus, which can create high demand.
Wyman said URI’s location in the southern portion of the state, and the supply office of Adonai being in the northern portion of the state created a geographical challenge for the company to supply campus with their products.
“We did try to award a number of locations to the smaller vendor, Adonai,” Angell said. They did find they were overwhelmed. I think they bit off more than they could chew, so to speak, so right now they have pulled back from the University and we are awarding most of those locations to Nestle.”