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Contracts awarded to construct new Bester Elementary School

September 19, 2012|By JULIE E. GREENE | julieg@herald-mail.com

HAGERSTOWN — The Washington County Board of Education voted unanimously Tuesday night to award contracts for the construction of a new Bester Elementary School to firms that were included in a bid package in which the school system requested nonprevailing wages.

Work on the new school could begin within a month, once a building permit is secured, Project Manager Traci Coldsmith said after the board meeting. A fence will be erected around the construction site behind the existing Bester Elementary in Hagerstown’s South End.

The total cost for this part of the project is $18,332,853, which is $2,366,556 less than the package of bids with prevailing wages, which was $20,699,409, according to presentation documents.

Some of the companies that were awarded contracts with Tuesday’s vote submitted the same bid for prevailing and nonprevailing bid packages, indicating that pay to those companies’ workers would be at the prevailing wage rate even though the board approved a package of nonprevailing wage bids, Purchasing Supervisor Lisa Freeman confirmed after the meeting.

During the meeting’s public comment period, three union representatives for area tradespeople made an argument for prevailing wages to the board during the meeting’s public comment section. They repeated several points union representatives made at a board meeting two weeks ago, including that workers who are paid prevailing wages have significant training and a prevailing wage allows workers to take care of their families.

Board member Donna Brightman said she would support Bester, but she was not happy with using nonprevailing wages nor with a process that she believed didn’t give board members enough input. After the first round of bids came in over budget, board members should have had an opportunity to discuss whether they wanted to rebid for nonprevailing wages as well as how the school project could be adjusted to save money, she said.

Board member Paul Bailey said board members had plenty of opportunity to provide input. Bailey said he relies on staff with expertise to recommend the best way to go.

Answering a question from Brightman about whether other counties look at nonprevailing wage contracts for school construction, Facilities Planning and Development Director Rob Rollins said, “Absolutely.” 

Board Vice President Jacqueline Fischer asked Coldsmith whether they believed paying nonprevailing wages forced people with the best training away from that job and causes people with perhaps fewer skills to do the work.

Coldsmith said she could not speculate about that. However, Coldsmith said, there is a quality standard in the contract document, and local inspectors review the work.

The new Maugansville Elementary School was built with a nonprevailing wage package, Rollins confirmed after the meeting. That school opened in 2008.

Board members who voted to approve construction bids for Bester were Board President Wayne Ridenour, Fischer, and board members Bailey, Brightman, W. Edward Forrest, Karen Harshman and Justin Hartings.

The second round of construction bids for Bester also came in over budget, both when the school system asked for prevailing wages and gave the option of companies paying nonprevailing wages. The estimated cost for this part of the project was $17.2 million.

Last week, the Washington County Board of Commissioners voted to transfer $2.1 million to the school board for capital projects, letting the school board decide whether to use the money for Bester or major maintenance projects.

Of that $2.1 million, $1.25 million will be used for Bester, Rollins said. The remaining $850,000 will be used for major maintenance projects, Rollins said.

Other money used to close a funding gap for Bester came from $634,000 that was designated for the lease for Barbara Ingram School for the Arts, and $1,141,000 that will come from the maintenance budget over three fiscal years, starting this fiscal year, according to Rollins and presentation documents. Ingram’s lease payment will instead be paid for with state funds, Rollins said. In the past ,the school system has budgeted money for Ingram’s lease as a placeholder until school system officials learn whether the state will cover the lease-to-own payment.

Not all of the companies awarded contracts with Tuesday’s vote were the lowest bidder. The lowest bidder did not always provide the required documents, Freeman said.

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