Rehrmann irate over late school Fallston Middle opening delayed

August 29, 1993|By Sherrie Ruhl | Sherrie Ruhl,Staff Writer

County Executive Eileen M. Rehrmann, angry over the failure of Fallston Middle School to open on time, says she never wants a county school delayed again.

"I think the Board of Education needs to evaluate the process [used to choose contractors] and decide what needs to be done so this doesn't happen in the future," Mrs. Rehrmann said.

The 850 students assigned to the middle school won't start classes until Sept. 13. That's two weeks later than the rest of the county's 35,000 students, who report to school tomorrow.

School officials had planned to open three new schools, but only the construction on Fountain Green Elementary in Bel Air has pTC gone smoothly. Plans to open Church Creek Elementary in Belcamp were scrapped in April, partly because of disputes with the contractor, Peter J. Scarpulla Contractors Inc. That school should open in 1994.

Mrs. Rehrmann, like other county and school officials, said she was frustrated by the Fallston Middle problems because the general contractor, Triangle General Contractors Inc., waited until Tuesday to concede that the $10.9 million school could not open on time.

A fire marshal's report released that day said there were too many potential safety hazards -- from an inoperable fire alarm system to blocked exits -- to open the school on time.

That gave the school system only three working days to tell parents and students of the two-week delay.

"I don't know what the big deal is. We are doing things as fast as we can. Things happen. I can't really say anymore," a Triangle employee told The Sun Thursday. The woman identified herself as "Marie" and refused to give her last name.

Later that day, a woman called and said Jack J. Leone, Triangle's owner, would have no comment.

If the 116,000-square-foot facility had been able to open tomorrow, students would have been drinking bottled water. It's unclear whether the water system will be working by Sept. 13 and how much of the building will be finished when the school opens. The school, which is about 85 percent complete, should have been finished July 15, said Joe Licata, the school system's construction supervisor.

Triangle's contract includes a $1,500-a-day late penalty, which Mrs. Rehrmann said she wants "fully enforced."

During a tour of the school Thursday, Mr. Licata said that, as a result of the Fallston Middle delay, school officials might tighten prequalifying standards and allow bids only from contractors who have met construction deadlines in the past.

Mr. Licata said it's "very, very difficult to exclude a contractor" from bidding on a school, because it's almost impossible to prove if a contractor is incompetent.

"If the contractor shows he has the financial backing and submits the correct documentation, it's hard to shut him out of the bidding process. The contractor can take you to court," he said.

Harford, like other school systems, almost always must accept the lowest bid or be prepared to prove in court why a contract is unacceptable.

But, Mr. Licata said, "I think it's safe to say Triangle will never build another Harford County school."

As he spoke, he stood in the main lobby at Fallston Middle. Nearby, boxes of ceiling grids and acoustical tiles were piled against one wall. Several extension cords lay on the floor. Debris, including empty coffee cups

and plastic bags, was scattered about.

F. Thomas Pomilla, Fallston Middle's principal, said school officials had delayed deliveries of furniture, equipment and supplies, but eventually had to start accepting shipments. He said chairs, desks and other materials for the school are being stored at Fountain Green Elementary, in the gym at Fallston High, at a local industrial park and "wherever possible" at the middle school.

Mr. Pomilla said Fallston Middle teachers will report for work tomorrow. He said the teachers, who will be temporarily housed at Fallston High, will use the two weeks before students arrive for planning and curriculum development.

As soon as possible, teachers will be allowed into Fallston Middle so they can get their classrooms in order, he said.

County Councilwoman Joanne S. Parrott, a District B Republican, who toured the school with Mr. Licata, said she was "outraged" that Triangle was not making more of an effort to finish the school on time.

"This is hardly a hotbed of activity," she said, complaining that there were not enough workers at the school. Mrs. Parrott said the contractor should have hired more employees to work evening and night shifts. "I stopped by last night and I saw only two men on the entire site," she said.

Keith Williams, a school board member, said the board may hire an engineer who can scrutinize contracts and supervise contractors to make sure work is done on time.

Currently, Mr. Licata and two assistants supervise all Harford school projects, from the replacement of roofs on 20 schools to the renovations of older schools and the construction of new ones.

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