Schools hire new chief of facilities division

August 12, 1999|By Lynn Anderson | Lynn Anderson,SUN STAFF

Hoping to avoid construction delays and control costs as they begin a half-billion-dollar building program, Baltimore County school officials have hired a new chief for the division of physical facilities.

Richard E. Hawes, who holds a similar post in Montgomery County, will take over the Baltimore County job next month. The division has been troubled by poor management, with competitive bidding sidestepped, cost overruns unjustified and recordkeeping uncompleted.

"We are well past that," said H. J. "Jack" Barnhart, who chairs the school board's building committee. "We're probably in better shape now than we ever have been."

Hawes, an engineer, is no stranger to Baltimore County schools. He held a similar job with the school system from 1983 to 1985.

"Not only will [Hawes] keep things on track, but one of his initiatives is to bring the square-footage cost per new building down," Barnhart said. "He's a real shining star in the state. We weren't the only ones trying to attract him."

Hawes told the county school board this week that he wants to hire a program manager to oversee some of the school system's most expensive projects, including new elementary schools in Owings Mills New Town and Woodlawn.

A program manager would help complete major projects on budget and without delays, Hawes said. Money to hire such a manager could come from the county's general fund, he added.

In 1996, the school system began discovering problems in its facilities division. An internal audit showed that staff misrepresented projects to the school board and commissioned work without contracts -- violations of school system policy.

A survey last year by the county auditor detailed those problems and others with recordkeeping on school construction.

To deal with the problems, the school board hired new personnel, including interim director Don Krempel, who reportedly has helped reduce cost overruns and provided more detailed information about contractors to the school board.

Faced with $530 million worth of repairs and renovations during the next eight years, school board members had been pushing to hire a permanent head of the facilities division.

At a meeting Tuesday, the board relaxed a rigorous review process for cost overruns. Only requests worth $7,500 or more will be forwarded to the board.

Barnhart interpreted that as a positive signal. "It is a sign from the board that there is a lot of trust in the new team, and I think that is justified," he said.

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