School audit still on tap

Commissioners see need for `information' on Cranberry Station

School board rejected idea

Construction project for elementary over budget by $1.7 million

April 16, 1999|By Melody Simmons | Melody Simmons,SUN STAFF

A day after the school board rejected a proposed independent audit of troubled Cranberry Station Elementary School, the county commissioners pledged to continue to pursue the accountability of the construction project, which is $1.7 million over budget.

A motion by school board member Susan Krebs to conduct a performance audit of the Westminster school project was defeated at the Board of Education's meeting Wednesday night, despite an agreement by school officials last week to allow such an examination.

Instead, Superintendent William H. Hyde said, his staff will work with county officials to hire a construction management company to review the project after the school opens, which is expected to be in August.

"Ultimately, the board decided on the staff putting together a proposed scope of work and bringing that back to the board in the form of a recommendation," Hyde said.

The commissioners, meeting in closed sessions yesterday, released a statement through county spokeswoman Maggie MacPherson.

"We're concerned about the decision," the statement read. "As a Board of Commissioners that has to provide the funds, we need to have the information. The board will continue to pursue having an audit done on the project. And the Board owes it to the citizens to determine how the money was used."

School board member Joseph D. Mish said Krebs' motion was "very complicated."

"She really had not discussed it ahead of time with the board," Mish said. "We felt it was very restrictive and not in the best interest of the board or the public."

Mish said he supports an examination of the Cranberry project after the school is completed.

"The problem with some of it is, it's not independent when you have some of your staff doing it," Krebs said. "It needs to be done independently to have credibility. I want financial and construction [audits]. I want to look at the costs and the flow of work."

An audit was discussed last week after three weeks of meetings between the boards on the Cranberry issue and other school construction projects.

Cranberry Station is expected to cost about 20 percent more than its proposed $8 million budget.

An article in The Sun in February highlighted numerous overruns tied to a break with the original contractor, James W. Ancel Inc. of Towson. That stemmed from a disagreement between school officials and Ancel after the officials demanded an apology from Ancel in a dispute over rock removal.

The demand soured the relationship and prompted Ancel to terminate his contract, documents show. Since Ancel's departure, the school system has scrambled to restart the project, paying more for construction because of tight deadlines and market conditions, the documents show.

Carroll taxes were raised in 1995 to pay for an ambitious school construction program in response to rapid growth. Four of the first five projects are over budget; two did not open on time.

After concerns were raised by the commissioners last month, the boards agreed last week that an independent audit might help "clear the air" surrounding the Cranberry project. Another meeting between the two boards is expected this month.

The report by a construction manager is expected to cost about $50,000, Hyde said, and take an undetermined amount of time.

"The thing I want to do is get information out to the public," Krebs said. "I don't know what else I can do."

Sun staff writer John Murphy contributed to this article.

Pub Date: 4/16/99

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