Council OKs $4 million for school cost overruns

September 20, 1994|By James M. Coram | James M. Coram,Sun Staff Writer

The Howard County Council last night approved transfers of $4 million in school construction money to pay for cost overruns at River Hill High School in Columbia.

The overruns -- the first in more than five years -- occurred because the state took away $2 million in promised construction aid and because the school system replaced the plumbing contractor, who was performing poorly, a school official told council members.

Sydney L. Cousin, associate school superintendent for finance and operations, told council members it is not unusual for state officials to re-evaluate school construction projects, "but to do it this late in the process is unusual."

The reason state officials gave for taking back $2 million of the $8.7 million pledged to the school was that portions of the school did not meet the state's criteria, Mr. Cousin said.

As for the plumbing problems, "We had to get rid of one contractor and bring another on board" in order to finish the school on time and begin classes there this August, Mr. Cousin said. "The system worked," he said. "We were able to get rid of a contractor who was not performing" and still open the school on time.

Mr. Cousin did not identify the Cockeysville-based plumbing firm of Collins-Snoops as the contractor nor did he mention that Lawrence A. Snoops is the firm's co-owner.

School officials identified the Snoops firm when they revealed the cost overruns at the Aug. 25 school board meeting.

Mr. Snoops is the son of the governor's long-time, close friend, Hilda Mae Snoops, and is also a Schaefer appointee to the eight-member State Board of Plumbing. The board examines and certifies plumbers and regulates the plumbing trade.

Council members expressed concern about whether the county could recoup any of the money spent redoing plumbing work done by the Snoops firm, since contractors have to put up bonds guaranteeing their performance.

Mr. Cousin told council members the Snoops contract amounted to $1.7 million, but was unable to tell Councilman Paul R. Farragut, a 4th Democrat, how much more than that the county has paid to redo plumbing work. Those figures still are being compiled, he said.

Mr. Cousin said that it is difficult to refuse to deal with a contractor who submits a low bid and provides a performance bond.

Mr. Cousin said the school system still is pursuing a legal remedy in hopes of recovering at least some of the cost overrun.

When asked about his problems with the school system earlier this month, Mr. Snoops said in a telephone interview that it was not his fault that the county had cost overruns. "There was a whole new list of fixtures and a whole new list of equipment" once the new contractor was hired, he said.

He said he has taken the matter to arbitration.

"It is still not a resolved issue," Mr. Snoops said. "The amount of money we're looking for coming to us would end this whole thing and make it go away. It is not something that should be handled publicly. It needs to be left alone until put to bed."

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