Agent to be `eyes, ears'

Commission sought experience, know-how in project adviser

Job to last 2 months

Bernard C. Schisler has contracted, renovated 46 years

June 30, 2000|By Jennifer McMenamin | Jennifer McMenamin,SUN STAFF

When the Carroll County commissioners went looking for a liaison to be their "eyes and ears" during construction of two high schools, they sought someone who was not just knowledgeable in engineering and construction but also had construction experience.

In hiring Bernard C. Schisler, the county gains a contractor with 46 years' experience in the construction or renovation of more than 90 schools across Maryland, including 13 in Carroll County.

Serving as an independent adviser to the commissioners, a position finalized this week, Schisler is charged with monitoring the construction of high schools in Eldersburg and Westminster, and rebuilding a public trust that has crumbled in the wake of bungled school construction projects, a grand jury investigation and several multimillion-dollar lawsuits against the school system.

"He just has the experience, from knowing how to read the bids and what they mean to knowing what it actually means when you're constructing a school and what is the best way to go," said Commissioner Robin Bartlett Frazier. For at least the first two months he's in the part-time job - until the commissioners decide whether to draw up a contract for the duration of the high school projects - Schisler will be paid $90 an hour and will have the authority to hire consultants for $35 an hour to $65 an hour depending on their services. The total for the two-month period cannot exceed $35,000 while Schisler and his consultants are being paid on an hourly basis.

Schisler, who lives north of Westminster, has worked as a project manager with Parkville-based Craft Construction since 1976. He began his construction career in 1954 with Craft's parent company, Morrow Brothers Inc., one of the state's oldest general contracting companies.

Frazier has lamented that a liaison was not hired earlier - with construction of the brick exterior in progress, Century High in Eldersburg is a year from completion and contracts for the much-debated high school for Westminster are almost all awarded.

Schisler's influence is apparent.

When the school board moved to award 13 bids at its meeting June 14 for construction at the Westminster school, Frazier questioned why the board would pay an additional $300,000 for a roof that's different from every other school roof in the county.

The school construction supervisor explained that it was because the roof would last longer. Why then, Frazier asked, do both roofs carry a 20-year warranty? "If it lasts longer, why doesn't it have a longer warranty?" she inquired.

Prepped by Schisler, Frazier asked questions that were far more detailed and demanded more explanation than typically occurs during routine bid awards recommended by school staff.

The school board, however, declined to delay awarding the roofing and carpentry bids that Frazier questioned.

"The roof is a good example of where we could find some savings - choices that are made that could hold the price down and still be a good viable way to build without skimping," Frazier said, adding that the commissioners will keep a list of such expenses where Schisler thought money could have been saved. "We're hoping that [the school board] will at least entertain our thoughts on things like this before they accept a bid so all of us understand why we're going in one direction or another."

This isn't the first time Schisler has questioned the actions of the school system.

He criticized an expensive dispute between the school board and the original contractor of Cranberry Station Elementary as "a big waste of taxpayers' money." Expected to cost $8 million, the school was more than 20 percent over budget and sparked a $45 million defamation lawsuit that was settled last year for $60,000.

"I'm not critical" of the school board, Schisler said in an interview. "I just always question them. If they have a good justification for things, I don't mind and I would have no problems. I just bring things out and keep an eye on taxpayers' money."

School board members have questioned whether Schisler's work in Carroll County - from managing the construction Spring Garden Elementary in Hampstead to the renovation underway of the media center at Sykesville Middle - creates a conflict of interest.

"I simply think that the interests of the community would have been better served if the commissioners' consultant was unrelated to any previous projects," said board President C. Scott Stone.

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