School project exceeds its estimate But management firm, not county, must pay South Shore excess

August 11, 1996|By Andrea F. Siegel | Andrea F. Siegel,SUN STAFF

With almost all construction bids in, South Shore Elementary School is about $375,000 over the cost estimate of $5.7 million.

If the remaining bids come in close to what they were projected to be, the contracts for the school in Crownsville will total nearly $6.1 million. But the school system is on the hook for $5.7 million only, said Rodell E. Phaire Sr., director of facilities planning and construction.

That is because Whiting-Turner Contracting Co., the construction management firm hired by the county Board of Education, guaranteed it would bring the project in on time and at the estimate that it helped develop.

"If that is what Whiting-Turner contracted for, unless there was an act of God, beyond their control anything over that $5.7 million, those payments are the responsibility of Whiting-Turner and not us," said Ralph A. Luther, school facilities management chief.

Whiting-Turner officials could not be reached for comment Friday.

"Actually, I like this way of doing it," said Joseph H. Foster, president of the school board. "It's optimal as far as we are concerned."

Nevertheless, before the mechanical systems contract was awarded last week for nearly $200,000 over its estimate, Foster questioned the validity of the estimates.

County government officials who have been highly critical of school construction costs are fuming. County Executive John G. Gary, the school board's chief critic, said through a spokesman that he wasn't familiar enough with this project to comment.

"The problems didn't go away," said Robert Dvorak, the county government's chief administrator. "It's over the estimates -- and it is not over yet. You've still got more contracts and change orders."

Whether the school system has to pay the additional money or not, this points to continuing flaws in school planning and construction, county officials say.

"Until they stand up and say something is broke, this is going to keep going on," said Ray Elwell, a county government budget officer who monitors the school system.

School construction officials attribute the differences largely to market fluctuations and bidding requirements. This is the first time the school system has tried an arrangement in which a management firm has guaranteed a price. It was done because a year ago the school already had been delayed a year, was in jeopardy of not being done on time and the bids were over budget. The project, which is budgeted for almost $8.7 million -- including furnishings, design work and tearing down the old building -- has been delayed twice.

It began as a renovation and addition to a 38-year-old school. Blueprint errors led officials to scrap the first proposal. When the low bid on the renovation and expansion was $4 million higher than the budgeted amount, school administrators re-examined their plans. The project was changed from a renovation to a new school, but it still was over budget. The new plans shrunk the project from a 412-student school to a building with classrooms for 300. That, officials say, should be large enough through 2004, ZTC when an addition can be built. Children have been out of the old South Shore building since 1994.

But Karen Liston, past PTA president, said that as South Shore children prepare to start their third year of elementary school at Annapolis Middle, the community's big concern is whether the new school will open next August. Whiting-Turner has made that pledge in its contract.

"I really do have faith in Whiting-Turner," Liston said. "You have to put your faith somewhere. I really prefer to put it with Whiting-Turner than with the Anne Arundel County school construction department."

Pub Date: 8/11/96

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