$555,000 voted for Deer Park school County board awards no-bid ventilation job

June 05, 1996|By Marego Athans | Marego Athans,SUN STAFF

The Baltimore County school board will spend up to $555,000 to fix a faulty ventilation system at Deer Park Elementary, where a flawed $2.2 million renovation just two years ago left air quality problems that prompted the school's closing in March.

The board awarded a contract jointly last night to Emjay Engineering and Construction Co. and Jack Dale Associates to begin work immediately so the school can reopen in August.

But it wasn't without skittishness that the board declared the project an emergency and bypassed the normal competitive bidding process -- which county officials said would have delayed the reopening until early 1997.

The school system is facing intense scrutiny for an internal audit, released last week, that details widespread violations of bidding laws and procedures.

"Are we in trouble because we're not submitting these bids? Is this an emergency?" board member Michael Kennedy asked.

"It depends on how you classify an emergency," said George Perdikakis, director of the county's Department of Environmental Protection and Resource Management, who is overseeing the project.

"It's not life or death. It's a common-sense decision," he said.

"If I wanted to classify myself as a bureaucrat, which I don't, I'd go for Option 2 [competitive bids]."

The same engineers who were awarded the contract last night concluded from a study over the past two months that the school's three ventilation systems were not bringing in outside air to the classrooms, were not working together and were controlled by a complex computer network that maintenance workers could not operate.

Beginning this week, the engineers will install yet another ventilation system that will bring outside air through the roof and reduce the function of the classroom heat pumps by about 70 percent.

The job also will entail a host of other renovations that engineers say are needed to satisfy building codes, such as removing from ductwork the fiberglass lining that is a breeding ground for bacteria.

The expenditure brings the tab for Deer Park's latest air quality crisis to about $650,000, including studies on air quality and mechanical systems conducted since March.

The 1994 overhaul cost $2.2 million -- $657,000 over budget, according to an internal audit of the building's problems. The audit also found that the project was mismanaged from the start.

Last week, three maintenance department officials were ousted from the school system in the wake of the problems at Deer Park and those exposed in the wider audit of the school system facilities department. The audit is under review by the county attorney.

Facing heat from violations that happened under their watch, board members last night grilled county and school officials about the need to start

the work immediately.

The vote to award the contract without competitive bidding was 7-2, with Kathy Cohn and Phyllis Ettinger dissenting.

"Very frankly, I'm uncomfortable with the idea of a sole-source approach," Ettinger said.

The alternative, Perdikakis said, was to delay the school's opening for a semester because advertising for bids, designing specifications and holding a prebid conference would take eight to 12 weeks, he said.

And putting up the children in trailers for the fall term would cost another $413,000, said the school system's acting deputy superintendent, Robert Chapman.

Deer Park parents are unhappy with the current arrangement -- their children are split among two nearby schools -- and school officials have promised them trailer classrooms on the Deer Park Middle School campus if the elementary doesn't open in the fall.

Last night's discussion centered mostly on money and whether to bypass bidding procedures.

Little mention was made of the children, who missed at least eight days of school when the building shut down in March.

Pub Date: 6/05/96

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