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School Board Discusses $247,438 School Construction Change Order

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By Dave Freneaux

In the May 24th regularly scheduled school board meeting, an item which was eventually removed from the agenda received a great deal of interest and discussion.  Mr. Bogan, the CCSS Construction Coordinator, explained that he was going to pull discussion and vote on a construction change order of $247,438 for computer and communications wiring in Central High School.  The high school, along with Bellingrath and Tanglewood, are undergoing renovations over the summer funded by the property taxes Central approved at the polls in 2009.

While the discussion and explanations were hard to follow at times, the sequence of events seems to be as follows:  Mr. Bogan states that Sun Electric, the subcontractor doing the electrical work at the schools, approached him and suggested that the technology wiring which would eventually have to be completed at the high school could actually be done within the time allotted to complete the renovations this summer.  Mr. Bogan added that the project architects, Grace & Hebert, had initially advised that the wiring upgrade not be attempted during this summer’s phase of renovations because it could delay completion of the entire renovation, which must be finished for the first day of school this fall.  That left less than $5,000 of techology wiring to do in the high school.  Project Electrical Contractor, Sun Electric, then brought in a bid from GM Cable Contractors, a local Central business, and asserted to Mr. Bogan that the wiring could be done within the time allotted this summer.

At this point, concerns were raised by several school board members.  First, there seemed to be a legal question as to whether a change order of this magnitude could even be considered since it may not fall within the formal “scope of work” of the renovation project.  Second, the $247,438 price tag was from a single company and the work had not been put out for competitive bids.  Last, the work had been bid with no formal drawings and specifications, based instead on a walkthrough visual inspection of the school.  Several members of the community, board members, and electrical and construction contractors spoke on the issue.  The common theme seemed to be that the change order should not be allowed without taking competitive bids and that at this late date the time required for a formal bid process may make completion of the wiring this summer impossible.  The advantage of doing the wiring during this phase of renovations is that the drop ceilings will all be taken down, giving easy access to the wiring, which is located mainly in the ceilings.  Mr. Bogan estimated that completing this work at a later date would likely drive the price up by $100,000.

With a potential savings of $100,000 which could be realized if the work were completed this summer, CentralSpeaks.com sought the assistance of a local General Contractor to discuss what may be possible.  The Contractor, who has done school renovations in EBR Parish larger than Central High’s project, which included similar technology wiring, is not involved in any of the current renovations and would not be involved in this additional work.  In this General Contractor’s opinion based on his experience, he believes the following are possibilities to consider.

In most cases the specifications can be created as simply as a marking up the existing schematics of the school, and can even be done in narrative form, as it seems to have been done initially.  This should take a matter of a few days.  Taking these bid specifications through review by the Contractor and the CCSS will add a few days as well.  By this point a decision needs to have been made by legal counsel as to whether this work can appropriately be considered a change order.  If it can be, the existing sub-contractor could be allowed to submit pricing for review and approval by the Engineers and Architects.  If the pricing is found to be reasonable, the change order can be approved by the School Board and issued and work can begin immediately, as soon as early to mid June.  If the pricing is found to be unacceptable, other bids can be entertained.

In the alternative, if the work cannot be issued as a change order, there is a 30 day bid process mandated by law which would push the bid award date to approximately July 1st.  The General Contractor interviewed points out that this type of technology wiring has two aspects which favor completion of the work this summer.  First, the types of materials used in this work are “stock” items in most supply houses, so there should be no delay in material availability.  Second, this type of wiring is typically amongst the last items installed in a renovation project of this type and would likely not be scheduled for installation before early July anyway.  With students not returning this fall until August 25th, there is a large window of opportunity to accomplish this work, which the Contractor interviewed estimates would take up to several weeks depending on the size of the crew employed.

It is understood that problems do sometimes arise which could prevent this work from being completed this summer, but our School Board recognizes that possibilities should always be pursued where there is benefit to be gained.  The Central Community School Board and Superintendent Faulk are to be commended, first for identifying potential problems in the change order as submitted, then in setting out on a course that may give our students and faculty the best technology available when they return to school in the fall, and could save the taxpayers upwards of $100,000.  If the diligent efforts of our Board and District employees do not result in the work being completed this summer, it will be completed in Phase Two of the renovations next year.

Article by Dave Freneaux

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