Change order under review

Published 12:17 pm Wednesday, March 20, 2019

During the regular March session the Charlotte County Board of Supervisors (BOS) was presented with a request for $7.3 million in funding by the county’s public-school superintendent Dr. Nancy Leonard to complete renovation and upgrades to Bacon and Phenix Districts elementary schools.

The amount requested equaled the not-to-exceed, bottom line figure of a proposal submitted to the Charlotte County school board by Jamerson-Lewis Construction Company. The Lynchburg based contracting firm has been working on phase I of the retrofitting and upgrades project at the county’s two elementary schools since mid-June 2018, after being awarded a contract for $3.2 million by the BOS.

The school upgrade project proposal was designed to work within the current guidelines of the Public-Private Education Facilities and Infrastructure Act of 2002. (PPEA) The PPEA supplies specific guidelines by which a public entity, such as a school system or local government or administration can draw from resources in the private sector to complete projects.

The recent $7.3 million proposal by Jamerson-Lewis was submitted to the BOS as a change order to the original $3.2 million PPEA contract. If approved, it would raise the total amount to $10.5 million for the Bacon and Phenix schools project. Also, another $3.2 million was spent on a new HVAC system.

School Superintendent Dr. Nancy Leonard and Philip Jamerson, CEO of Jamerson Lewis Construction requested funding approval from the BOS during a formal presentation and progress report on the project.

The funding request drew immediate and harsh criticisms from several members of the BOS. It also served as a catalyst for discussion among board members, who looked to the county’s legal counsel for direction in how to handle the matter.

The Charlotte Gazette reached out to Dr. Leonard for comment after the meeting.

Dr. Leonard responded via email regarding the BOS’ decision, “Every delay by the BOS in committing necessary funds to address the school facilities needs at Bacon and Phenix, is a delay in providing the children in the Bacon and Phenix communities safe, comfortable, and equitable schools.”

Two BOS members, Kay Pierantoni and Donna Fore voiced critical concern over the PPEA process entirely.

Aside from the shock of being presented with a change order that was over twice the amount of the original contract, Aspen/Phenix supervisor Donna Fore was most concerned with the lack of any supplementary documentation provided to the Board for review. She also pointed out items she considered part of the maintenance of the schools and thus were the full and regular responsibility of the School Board. “I don’t understand why things like windows and painting are on this list.”
Fore spoke with The Charlotte Gazette after the meeting and explained her point of view, “I am not going to blindly vote on anything that costs that much money. We should have been given a copy of the proposal or a handout, something. I cannot base my decision on a power point presentation, not for that amount of money.”
Kay Pierantoni, Supervisor for the Wylliesburg, Red Oak district voiced many of the same concerns as Fore but added more questions about the PPEA process in general.
“I would like to know how a change order can be over twice as much as the original contract,” she said during the meeting.
“I know that our children need good schools, but we also need to consider we are spending a lot of money on communications system, schools. We are creating a huge amount of debt. We seriously need to look at what that amount of debt is going to do to the resident’s taxes,” Pierantoni said, “We are about to go into budget talks, I think, before we go any further, we need to stop and check to see if there is any other way to finish this project.”
The BOS passed a motion to delay the approval of the PPEA contract until the April meeting. The delay would allow the county’s attorney to review the PPEA to be able to provide the board with a better understanding of it.
A second motion passed by the BOS was to use the same period to explore different, less costly ways outside of the PPEA process to finish the repairs at the schools.
Charlotte County Administrator Daniel Witt provided his insight into the situation during a brief telephone conversation with The Charlotte Gazette. “I believe the high dollar amount of the proposal and lack of specificity attached to the PPEA process gave the Board reason for pause,” he said. “The flipside of all of this is that, if they do put this project back out for bid, it could very well wind up costing double what it is right now. It’s a gamble.”