Audit blasts Deer Park project Botched renovations cost $657,000 more than schools budgeted

May 15, 1996|By Marego Athans | Marego Athans,SUN STAFF

Baltimore County school officials not only botched a renovation project at Deer Park Elementary School but overspent by $657,000 doing it, according to a scathing internal audit released last night on the building's problems and how they were handled.

The audit, conducted over the past five weeks, shows that facilities officials violated numerous procedures, codes and school board practices in the 1993-1994 renovation.

As a result, school officials moved children into a building in September 1994 before the work was complete, and the $1.6 million budgeted cost rose to $2.2 million.

The conclusions come a month and a half after parents forced the Randallstown-area school to be closed, many complaining that the building was making people sick.

According to the review, the project was handled by inexperienced employees who paid little attention to procurement laws and practices.

Much of the renovation project was classified as an emergency, enabling officials to circumvent competitive bidding requirements for the work split among numerous contractors.

Some vendors performed work without an official contract or purchase order.

More than $73,000 was paid in incentives to vendors for early completion of their work -- incentives that were not approved by the school board.

In one case, a $14,000 incentive for asbestos abatement was paid before the job was completed.

The auditors, who work for the school system, concluded from their review of documents and interviews with employees, health officials and engineers that the building was not a health hazard and should not have closed amid the clamor by parents nearly two months ago.

What caused the debacle, auditors said, was a failure by school system officials to properly address the concerns of teachers, parents and students when the complaints emerged shortly after the building reopened in fall 1994.

"The department of facilities failed to communicate timely and effectively to the students, faculty, staff and members of the community," the auditors wrote.

"The department of facilities response to the mechanical failures has been inadequate and reactive."

Superintendent Anthony G. Marchione released the audit to school board members at a meeting last night and none had the chance to read it and respond.

Despite numerous procedural violations, auditor Frances Parker said in an interview that no illegal activity in the Deer Park project had been found.

Marchione said he would refer the audit to the county attorney for advice on "whether any further action is warranted."

Following recommendations outlined in the audit, he said he also promised to reorganize the facilities department, has transferred all procurement responsibilities from the facilities department to the office of purchasing, and pledged to provide training for facilities employees and conduct a review of the work order system.

"I am pleased that the audit states that despite the recent problems with its ventilation system, Deer Park Elementary is not a 'sick' building," he said.

"This finding does not, however, diminish the fact that as a school system we were not as responsive to a situation that could have, and should have, been immediately corrected."

Among the findings:

The facilities department failed to plan and properly manage the renovation project from its inception.

Facilities officials acted as the general contractor on the project without the required expertise, and the project was done in a "piecemeal" fashion. During the course of the work, the project ,, manager was changed three times.

The facilities department processed more than 162 purchase orders for 77 vendors and more than 50 change orders to 30 vendors, indicating "a lack of control over the entire renovation."

Deer Park's heating and ventilation equipment, made by Airedale North America, did not work properly. The equipment was chosen by the school system's maintenance supervisor, Robert Klein, and facilities director Faith Hermann, who was relieved of those duties recently.

School district employees were responsible for choosing the size of the Airedale units, according to auditors' interviews with company officials. The units failed in part because they were undersized.

Auditors could find no drawings for the heating and ventilation system.

School employees put ethylene glycol into the heating system without first testing its effect. The odor that resulted from a leak in the heating system in several rooms helped touch off the complaints by parents that led to Deer Park's closing.

School system employees did not obtain the proper permits for the renovation, and engineers' recommendations were ignored.

The facilities department authorized work without completing purchase orders, and purchase orders were usually issued after the work was completed.

The audit noted among its examples that the board had approved an asbestos abatement award Feb. 2, 1994, and received an invoice just three days later indicating that 68 percent of the work had been completed.

Pub Date: 5/15/96

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