PHS GYM FLOOR PROCESS FLOORS ONE’S CREDULITY; BIANCHI OVERSEES FAULTY PROCEDURE THAT a.) ALLOWED VOLUNTEER, NOT PURCHASING, TO OBTAIN QUOTE and b.) SELECT A VENDOR NOT CERTIFIED FOR THE WORK … RESULT? TAXPAYERS MuST COUGH UP 60 EXTRA $Gs
By DAN VALENTI
PLANET VALENTI News and Commentary
(FORTRESS OF SOLITUDE, MONDAY, AUG. 26, 2013) — In our previous column, THE PLANET outlined the lack of process in capital projects under Mayor Dan Bianchi, exemplified by the shoddy procurement and vetting work related to a proposal for work on a new gym floor at PHS.
Capital expenses occur outside the budget, brought forth by the mayor, approved (or not) by the city council, and paid for by borrowed money. Capital spending will this year push the city budget past $140 million. Bianchi put in for $150,000 in his capital projects to replace the gym floor. In a late communication to the city council, he asked for $60,000 more — a 40% hike in the figure initially approved by the council.
As we pointed out, the first problem is determining why school officials allowed the floor to deteriorate. A source familiar with the maintenance told THE PLANET that the floor, which requires weekly treatment, hadn’t been receiving this treatment for some time — believed to be years. Is this in fact what happened? Someone needs to pull the maintenance records for the gym floor going back at least 1o years. There should be a maintenance log that has the facts: Who didn’t do what, when, and why not?
The floor is shot; it needs to be repaired. That much is clear. However, it behooves the mayor, the school superintendent, and especially the Pittsfield School Committee to investigate the maintenance issue. If officials allowed the gym floor to crumble, what other facilities and infrastructure has been subject to this same inattention? Is there an established process and procedure for routine upkeep of taxpayer-owned facilities, equipment, buildings, and tools? Is there accountability? Who’s keeping track? As Casey Stengel once famously said about the 1962 New York Mets: “Can’t anyone here play this game?”
Digging into PSC minutes, THE PLANET reports that on April 24, 2013, Steve Ray, head coach of the PHS boys’ basketball team, told the school committee “about the condition of the … floor and the need for it to be replaced. He said the floor is a safety hazard and unsafe for students to play on.” Committeeman Dan Elias, according to the minutes, “attested to the fact that the PHS gym floor was bad 10 years ago.” Again, the question of maintenance comes to the front.
Once the decision was made to replace the floor, Bianchi decided to pay for it not with school funds but with borrowed money as a capital expense. At this point, one would expect a few things to happen:
1. That Bianchi would inform the proper department heads (Jim Abel, athletic director at PHS, would seem to be the logical choice; also, the school committee; and he city’s purchasing department).
2.) That Bianchi would assign Coleen Hunter-Mullet, the city’s purchasing agent, to head to effort to find vendors and obtain proposals from competing contractors.
3.) That Bianchi would meet with Abel and Ray for their input.
4.) After obtaining a proper quote, purchasing would submit a formal proposal to the mayor, who would pass it along to the city council for action.
In short, such a process demands that purchasing professionals take charge at the mayor’s direction.
THE PLANET’s investigation has determined, however, that an amateur, a volunteer and not city purchasing professionals, did the legwork on soliciting a proposal through the office of city treasurer Sue Carmel. Who was that person? We can’t say for sure, but it appears to be Jim Abel. At any rate, Abel’s name is in the “To:” blank of the FAX sent by a flooring company along with a proposal.
Giving this person the benefit of the doubt, you can excuse the eagerness to be of help. Nonetheless, with hundreds of thousands of dollars at stake, no mayor can let purchasing take place outside of the city’s due process. Sue Carmel is not Coleen Mullen. The treasurer is not the purchaser? What conclusion can we reach, other than Bianchi seems to have lost control over his own government?
To Better Understand this Chain of Events, Let’s Go Back in Time
On Dec. 3, 2012 (more than four months before Steve Ray appeared before the PSC telling them of the floor), Abel received a FAXd proposal from a company called Forth Sport Floors Inc. of East Greenbush, NY. First question: Why Forth Sports? Someone must come forth, pun intended, and explain this, if only to avoid the more cynical interpretation: That there’s a mercenary reason that Forth Sport should have been asked to bid, with money finding its way to “who knows where.” Be clear: THE PLANET does not make that assertion. We merely suggest it as a possibility, where it will remain in place until Bianchi, Abel, school Supt. Jason McCandless, or PSC chairman Alf Barbalunga explains.
Forth Sport furnished a proposal to “furnish all labor, materials, and equipment, to install the Action Interlock Floor System over the existing synthetic floor.” It quoted a total price of $113,000, or $97,000 less than what the floor will cost from another vendor. How could the proposal be off by so much? Was this a legitimate process?
THE PLANET learned that those in the know about the cost of such floors scoffed at the $113,000 quote for being way too low. The low-ball offer raised eyebrows, including those of Bianchi. It further turned out that Forth Sport, according to our sources, is not DCAM certified to do the work.
What is DCAM?
From the website of the state office of administration and finance: “Contractors wishing to submit prime bids on public building projects estimated to cost more than one hundred thousand dollars ($100,000) for the construction, reconstruction, installation, demolition, maintenance, or repair of any publicly owned building must first be certified by the Division of Capital Asset Management and Maintenance (DCAMM). Certification is also required for filed sub-bids. The certification process is conducted by DCAMM Contractor Certification Office.”
Thus, boiling this all down:
1.) Mayor Bianchi allowed a volunteer to solicit a bid
2.) From a contractor not certified to do the work.
“Can’t anyone here play this game?”
Wait, though. The story gets better.
Our sources say that after the volunteer obtained the quote from Forth Sport, he gave it to school committeeman Jim Conant for some unknown reason. Conant, our sources tell us, gave the quote to assoc. school supt. Kristen Behnke, who is responsible for the school budget and school purchasing. Behnke reportedly gave the quote to Bianchi, who said the quote was underfunded. Sources says Behnke turned around and gave the quote to Pete Sondrini in building maintenance. Round and round she goes, and where she stops …
Sondrini balked at doing the project, wanting to know if the old floor could be saved. Sondrini, we hear, also wondered why school-side maintenance did not do the required upkeep of the PHS gym floor. He then turned the proposal over to Coleen Hunter-Mullet. Hunter, sources say, “didn’t do anything about it.” What goes around comes round, apparently.
At some point in this merry-go-round, Conant went to Mayor Bianchi and told him $150,000 would not be enough for a new gym floor. Bianchi went ahead anyway. Question: Did he know he would need $60,000 in additional funds? If so, why did he submit an underfunded request. If not, why not? Did he bait and switch, presenting it to the council at a lower price to get it approved only to come in later for the extra $60 grand, after the commitments had been made?
In the end, the city selected American Sport Floors Inc. of Rockland, Mass., to do the work, which has not begun yet. We don’t know if the purchasing process for ASF went through the city’s purchasing department or not. ASF quotes $172,220 for a new floor, plus an engineering contingency that is expected to push the final price up to or over $210,000.
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A proposal sought by a volunteer from a company not certified to do the work went through five different city departments (school committee, school department, mayor’s office, city building and maintenance, and city purchasing) with no one stepping forward to provide leadership.
Does this exemplify the purchasing process under Mayor Bianchi, or is it just an aberration, to use a word made famous by Sarah Hathaway? We have calls into Bianchi’s office. When the e-mail or phone doesn’t ring, we know it’s the mayor not calling.
“Yes, lad, I lie easy, / I lie as lads would choose; / I cheer a dead man’s sweeheart, / Never ask me whose.” — A. E. Housman, final verse, “Is My Team Ploughing?”
“OPEN THE WINDOW, AUNT MILLIE.”
LOVE TO ALL.