EXCELLENT! Work on Murfreesboro Islamic Center in Tennessee is delayed as construction companies show reluctance to bid

Leaders of the Islamic Center of Murfreesboro said this summer that breaking ground on their mosque would bring relief after a tumultuous year. (Not for the people of Murfreesboro, the majority of whom are Christians and do not want the mosque there)

(Sadly, the people were not able to stop the mosque, despite all the court fights and protests. It will get built. Hopefully it won’t stay built)

Tennessean  But an August target date slipped past, and a lack of contractor interest led to an extended deadline — still open — for construction companies to offer bids to build the new center.

“It’s not a secret that we could not get the bids that we would hope to get,” said Saleh Sbenaty, a member of the mosque planning committee. “That can be for various reasons. Some contractors are busy … and sometimes you find a contractor who really would like to get the job who is feeling some pressure from the community.”

While contractors remain fiercely competitive when most projects crop up, mosque leaders are left wondering why some companies backed out and never returned calls. (Gee, I wonder why?)  It’s their latest frustration after a year of protests and court hearings over the mosque plans.

Rutherford County’s approval of the plan to build a new mosque touched off protests and a lawsuit from a group of residents last year. A judge recently upheld a ruling that the Islamic center has the right to build, giving mosque leaders a brief moment to celebrate. But a bomb threat received last week at the center again soured the mood. (Gee, I love Tennesseans)

Now, leaders are focusing on choosing a contractor from a handful who bid. That choice could be made by the end of the month, with construction beginning soon after that. A 12,000-square-foot first phase could open about a year from now, in time for the center’s observances of Ramadan, Sbenaty said. “We did not anticipate this delay,” he said. “We’re not really in a big hurry, but we would like to start before the cold, rainy seasons are here.”

Going into the bidding process, mosque leaders believed construction companies would be eager to find work amid the economic downturn — and that is the case on most projects, said contractors in Rutherford County.

Alton Fann, owner of Fann’s Air Conditioning and Heating in Murfreesboro, called the construction market “super, super competitive.” “People are doing work for seemingly not much profit,” he said. But market conditions are not the only factor in play. Fathy said one local contractor backed out of the mosque bidding process after describing pressure inside his church.

“He was interested and then he actually said, ‘You know what, it’s going to be tough for me to do this job. … The pastor is talking about your outfit almost every week, and it would be very hard for me to take the job,’ ” Fathy said.

Contractors may also worry about equipment vandalism at the mosque site on Veals Road off Bradyville Pike, where in August 2010 police investigated a suspicious fire that scorched construction gear. “Due to what has occurred out there, there are probably a lot of contractors who don’t want to take that risk,” said Kent Ayer, vice president of operations at TDK Construction, a Murfreesboro-based apartment builder that is not involved with the mosque.

The difficulty in getting bids must be “a direct result of the pressure or stigma of helping out,” said Dow Smith, who owns a Smyrna-based contracting company. “That really saddens me … that there’s been that much resentment and unfounded fear.” Smith said he is typically able to find subcontractors hungry for work when he builds churches, health-care facilities and commercial projects. He was not contacted to bid on the mosque.

Countless protests against the mosque