Thursday, April 8, 2004

Oversight price tag draws questions

$16.4M to guide schools project

By Jennifer Mrozowski
The Cincinnati Enquirer

A proposal to hire a group of firms to oversee the Cincinnati Public Schools building project drew criticism on Wednesday from some school board members who questioned the estimated $16.4 million price tag and scope of the work.

Schools Superintendent Alton Frailey has said the firms are necessary to ensure the $1 billion project stays on time and on budget over the next decade. School district officials said they don't have enough staff now to oversee the project, which includes building or renovating 66 schools.

The firms would also implement strategies to improve the percentage of minority-owned firms participating in the building project, coordinate relocation of students and staff, oversee site safety plans, prepare contracts and notices, assess change orders, obtain occupancy certificates, develop a communication plan for the project and other tasks.

But some board members say they are unclear how to avoid overlap with jobs of district staff, and they question the cost.

"There was some information shared today that brings light to some of the specific responsibilities (of the companies) and the need for them," said board President Florence Newell. "But there needs to be additional clarity about the specific gaps and how these firms fill in those gaps."

The board is expected to vote on the proposal Monday.

Parsons Brinckerhoff Ohio Inc., an international planning, engineering, and construction management company with offices downtown, and two local construction management companies, Megen Construction Co. in Forest Park and ProjDel Corp. of Lockland, make up the team that would oversee the construction plan. One of the group's past projects includes overseeing the Great American Ball Park construction.

Laura Randall Media in Mount Lookout would coordinate media and community relations on the project.

The cost is estimated at $6.9 million over three years or $16.4 million over the life of the project.

The project could be paid from interest earned on bond sales and the sale of a surplus school building, district officials said. They also expect the district to save money - up to half the cost of the contract - through the firms' efficient management of the construction work.

Board members aren't all convinced.

"The superintendent needs to provide more information to the board," said board member Harriet Russell. "The board, in exercising its fiduciary responsibility in determining how monies are spent, needs to have a more thorough explanation of the need for the range of services that were placed in the (request for qualifications of firms)."

Russell wondered why the board wasn't informed about the six other firms considered to manage the project.

Frailey said any firm that contacted the district was included in the interview process and that bidding was not required.

"The administration is charged with going out and doing the legwork and making the recommendations," he said. "The firm that we chose was one that had diversity in the partnership, ties in the community and a great grasp of the issues facing this community."

Board member Melanie Bates supports the idea of hiring the firms.

"It's our responsibility to bring in this master facilities master plan on budget and on time," she said. "We don't have the capacity within the school system to do that."


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