School won't be penalized by state

Cost overrun, changes won't reduce funding of facility being built

April 09, 1999|By John Murphy | John Murphy,SUN STAFF

The Maryland agency that supervises school construction said yesterday that no reductions in funding are planned for Cranberry Station Elementary School because of cost overruns and changes in the quality of construction material.

But the state said it was concerned about a change in roofing material and warranty for the project. The new Westminster elementary school was built with a thinner roofing material that includes a 15-year warranty. State guidelines require a 20-year warranty.

As a result, the county will not be eligible for any state funding for roof repairs or replacement until 20 years after the school's completion.

"If there is premature roof failure, [the county] would be totally responsible for that," said Yale Stenzler, executive director of Maryland's Interagency Committee on School Construction.

Cranberry Station Elementary School, which will open in August, was projected to cost $8 million under the original contract with James W. Ancel Inc. of Towson. But because of a breakup with the original contractor, the construction cost rose to $9.3 million, not including furniture, equipment and other costs.

To make up for the $1.3 million overrun, the school system has made changes to the building, reducing the quality of carpet in the media center, eliminating a play area and using thinner roofing material. School officials also pulled more than $900,000 from other construction projects to pay for Cranberry Station.

Stenzler found that none of those changes would affect state funding on the project. Carroll school officials are seeking to recover 65 percent of the project's costs.

This year, they're seeking $2.7 million for Cranberry Station from the Maryland Board of Public Works, which will decide in May how much each school system will receive for construction projects.

Competition for funds is stiff. School systems across the state are seeking $136 million in reimbursements, but only $62 million to $72 million is available. Stenzler said he will wait until the Cranberry Station project is complete to calculate how much money the county will be eligible for in total.

"We will look at original and subsequent contract costs. This is an unusual situation," Stenzler said.

Vernon Smith, Carroll's assistant superintendent of administration, said yesterday he was pleased with the results of Stenzler's review.

"The good news is that nothing that has been done to reduce costs on the project will negatively impact state consideration of eligible funds," he said. "I think that it's a positive statement for the school system's effort to do some value-engineering and do some responsible cutting on certain building elements."

Stenzler's review of Cranberry Station overruns stopped short of the most disputed portion of the project: why the contractor terminated his contract with the school board.

Ancel, the contractor, has said that he left after school officials demanded an apology from him after the dispute over rock removal. When Ancel did not submit an apology, school officials took a "vicious and hostile" approach to his firm, Ancel said.

With Ancel gone, the school system scrambled to pull the project back together, paying higher than projected costs because of tight deadlines and changing market conditions.

School officials admit they demanded an apology from Ancel but denied it led to Ancel's departure. They have argued that Ancel and the school system decided to terminate the contract because Ancel would not finish the school on time.

Stenzler said it was not his agency's place to decide which side was right.

"That's not my focus. We're not sitting as a judge and jury whether they should have done that. Obviously, it would have been preferable to finish the [project] with original contract. But even marriages end in divorce," he said.

The questions surrounding the project may be answered by an independent audit, which the school board and the county commissioners called for during a joint meeting on school construction this week.

School board members might vote on the idea during Wednesday's board meeting.

Pub Date: 4/09/99

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