Written by Danielle Wallingsford Tuesday, 24 July 2012 19:03
Ken Harding, Superintendent of the Jackson County Board of Education, was issued a letter from the director of the State of Alabama Building Commission on June 8 ordering the renovation of Pisgah High School Gymnasium to cease immediately.
The letter was issued after John Vandiver, inspector for the Alabama Building Commission, noticed extensive and unapproved repair projects while he was at Pisgah High School inspecting gym lighting. In her letter, Director of the Alabama Building Commission Katherine Lynn stated, “Our records indicate that the project has not been submitted to or approved by the Building Commission and the building is undergoing a major renovation.”
Cooley Gymnasium required repair after the April 2011 tornadoes. The Jackson County Board of Education declared repairs to the gym’s roof an emergency at a meeting on June 3, 2011. The project was completed under the coordination of Kent Professional Management, LLC in February of this year. However, the roof damage led to other problems within the gym that needed repair. According to a press release from the school board, Ken Harding requested competitive proposals from several contractors for the repairs that were still needed. Two contracts were awarded in April 2012 and much of the renovation has already been completed.
The Board, in the press release said, “Neither of these contracts was presented to the Board for approval, nor were the plans for the additional work submitted to the Alabama State Building Commission.” Section 39-2-2 of the Code of Alabama, Public Works Bid Law, states, “Before entering into any contract for a public works involving an amount in excess of fifty thousand dollars, the awarding authority shall advertise for sealed bids.”
Complaints that the Jackson County Board of Education did not follow proper state bid procedure have been filed. Malissa Valdes-Hubert, spokesperson for Alabama State Department of Education, said last Friday “There is no formal investigation ongoing regarding the situation at this time. We have been alerted to the complaints, and have offered our consultation to the school board there and to Mr. Harding, regarding the situation. We have also reviewed the purchasing procedures, the bid laws and the Alabama Building Commission rules with them.”
In an audit report from the Department of Examiners of Public Accounts, filed in 2011, the Jackson County Board of Education also failed to comply with bid laws on a previous occasion when they purchased from the same vendor HVAC units and other related equipment and installation in the amount of $180,833.
The Public Works Bid Law states that anyone who willfully violates the bid law is guilty of a Class C felony, and contracts that are entered into in violation of the code “shall be null, void and violative of public policy.”
Board members have absolved themselves from the issue stating, “The Board cannot explain why the School Superintendent failed to comply with specific requirements of the Public Works Bid Law on the Pisgah Gym Project or his failure to obtain prior approval of the project from either the Board or the Alabama Building Commission.” They went on to state that they believe Harding misinterpreted the bid law.
In a public statement released on Monday, Ken Harding explained that he was under the impression that an emergency had been declared to repair the Cooley Gym as a whole, and not the roof exclusively. He said, “Since the project had been declared an emergency, it was my belief that the repairs to the gym project could begin without going through all of the steps required by the Bid Law and further approval by the Board…I felt that while the gym was being repaired and workers were already present, it would be a great time to do some other things that would restore the Cooley Gym to its better days.” The work Harding contracted out included resurfacing the basketball court, restoration of old windows, repairs to the stage, electrical work and a plumbing upgrade. “For each of these items of repair or remodeling competitive bids were requested and received. Each contract that I signed as Superintendent was to the lowest or most qualified bidder,” Harding said.
The school board has retained the services of an architect and engineers and will soon submit plans for the remainder of the Cooley Gym project to the Alabama Building Commission for approval. When the plans are approved the project will be lawfully bid.
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