It’s been more than a year since a leaking roof was repaired at Edison Elementary School in Stickney, but Brookfield-Lyons District 103 school board members are still trying to determine the project’s final price tag and why the no-bid contract quadrupled to at least $152,500 without their knowledge.
The school board voted 6-1 last week to hire Gould & Pakter Associates to audit the project. The audit will also examine cost overruns of as much as $855,590 for the $7.1 million renovation of George Washington Middle School in Lyons in 2012. Board member Mitch Milenkovic was the single vote against the audit. He could not be reached for comment.
School board President Sharon Anderson said in a telephone interview that she still is not sure how much the Edison roof project cost, the extent of the work completed or whether there was ever really a leak in the first place.
She said Tom Sheehy, the school district’s maintenance director, approved the no-bid contract for the repair work because the original estimate came in at $35,000 — well under the $50,000 limit that would have triggered a public bidding process.
The contract went to A1 Building Maintenance & Plumbing, which lists its billing address to a residence in DarieJIJn owned by Alan Lembke. Lembke also is owner of the Lembke & Sons True Value hardware store in Berwyn, which also was paid thousands for supplies used in the project. Lembke did not return calls requesting an interview.
Sheehy declined to be interviewed, directing questions to Anderson, but in an email obtained by the Landmark, he tells Superintendent Mary Jo Vladika that he chose A1 over another firm at least in part because they could finish the work quickly.
“I would have serious doubts [A1’s competitor] could have completed this work before the opening of school, or at the final price we expended on the completion,” Sheehy said in the email.
No evidence of A1 Building Maintenance & Plumbing could be found on the Internet, and a public information request revealed that the district was unable to show proof of insurance, bonding or licensure of any sort with A1.
Anderson said the board was taken by surprise upon news of the cost overrun for the Edison project.
“Back in May or June our business manager [James Schiffer] was giving us a financial report, and he tossed in that the roofing project was $172,000,” Anderson said. “We were sitting there with our mouths hanging open. It just didn’t sit well with me.”
She acknowledged that she has publicly referred to the roof project as a “repair gone psychotic” but laughed it off, saying, “That’s why I’m trying to ascertain what happened.”
According to district records, Lembke & Sons and A1 were paid at least $154,162 and $41,610, respectively, in fiscal year 2012. It could not immediately be determined if the totals include other projects in addition to the Edison roof project.
Asked if she suspected foul play with the no-bid contract, Anderson said, “At this point I just want to know what happened. Did our process break down? I’m not going to say anything further.”
The school board vote also included a $60,000 cap on the audit and a requirement that the firm report their findings to the board biweekly. Board member Joanne Schaeffer said in a telephone interview that she put the cap on the study, because she said it would cost the district $14,000 to $21,000 a week for the project.
“Sixty thousand is approximately three weeks,” she said. “If it goes longer than that, I think the board needs to make a decision. Do they want to spend $80,000 or $100,000?”
Schaeffer said the expansion of the roof leak project also was approved by then-Superintendent Michael Warner, but the school board was not told of the change. Mr. Warner could not be reached for comment by press time.
Schaeffer said the district has had a good working relationship with Lembke & Sons for years, and she does not suspect foul play in the roof repair contract.
“The maintenance director said, ‘Yes, we made a mistake,'” she said, noting that as the repair project expanded, Sheehy should have notified the board.
“I’m just thinking let’s do the audit and see what it shows,” she said.
Auditors will also review the $7.1 million renovation of George Washington Middle School.
In a letter obtained by the Landmark, board member Mark Camasta told Schiffer in May that the original budget of $6.75 million for the middle school expansion project included roughly $495,000 in contingency funds for cost overruns. Since the project ran $7.1 million, it ultimately ran over budget by about $855,590, Camasta said.
“This is more than a 13.6 percent cost overrun. This demands an explanation!” Camasta wrote in the email. “If our normal budget is handled in this manner, we will be bankrupted in short order. This project has shaken my confidence in our management processes and managers.”
Schiffer responded in a May 13 letter, noting that overrun contingency budgeting for the project was “unrealistic from the start.”
“Tom [Sheehy] and I had limited say in the creation of the final budget figures,” he wrote, adding that the contingency “for a project of this complexity should be closer to 10 percent instead of the actual figure of 6.2 percent.”
A public information request shows that Schiffer, in an Aug. 31 letter to Vladika and Sheehy, said the budget overruns “could be largely explained by unbudgeted costs … to expedite the project.”
Schiffer goes on to say that he believes information about the cost overruns on the George Washington and Edison schools projects were “leaked to the [Chicago] Sun-Times in an attempt to publicly discredit Mr. Sheehy and also to indirectly implicate me.” He did not say who he believes leaked the information.