District 5 Awarded $7.7M Contract Without OK

April 22, 2011

Investigative Reports

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The NerveBy Kim Murphy
Citizen Reporter

Lexington-Richland School District 5 has awarded a multi-million-dollar school construction contract without the mandatory approvals from S.C. Department of Education.

According to an article by Superintendant Herb Berg, recently published in the Chapin Times and the New Irmo News, a $7.7 million construction bid was awarded for a major renovation project at Seven Oaks Elementary School, on Ashland Road in Columbia.

However, documents obtained by The Nerve from the Office of School Facilities, the agency vested with overseeing school construction within the state education department, show that the school district failed to obtain the required approval to advertise the project for bid.

In fact, records show that Office of School Facilities’ final review of the project’s drawings is still pending, yet District 5 has already begun construction.

The Construction Documents Review section in the S.C. School Facilities Planning and Construction Guide states plans are to be reviewed and approved by the agency prior to advertising a project:  

703.1.7 The design professional, construction project manager or the district shall not advertise for bidding a project before the Office of School Facilities has reviewed the contract documents and issued a verbal or written approval.

In apparent violation of that section, the Invitation to Bid first appeared in The State newspaper’s legal section on February 7 and, according to statements made at the April 12 board meeting by Keith McAlister, District 5’s director of new design and construction, the project was put out for bid on March 11.

On March 30, the school board awarded the contract at a specially called meeting, though as of this week the required review of the plans and subsequent approval to put the project out for bid were still outstanding.

Construction-approval oversight seems to occur regularly in Lexington-Richland 5.

On Monday, The Nerve reported that District 5 had moved children and staff into a new wing at Leaphart Elementary School without having obtained a certificate of occupancy from the Office of School Facilities.

In addition, the district failed to have the addition’s fire-suppression system’s design approved by the State Fire Marshal before moving in – approval that is required prior to construction of the system.

Additionally, during a public board meeting the administration gave inaccurate information to the board that the certificate of occupancy had been received.

Several other construction projects from the November 2008, $243-million bond referendum are at various stages of planning and construction.

Bids are due for renovations to Irmo Elementary School on May 11 while work at Chapin High School is on hold pending approval from the state Department of Health and Environmental Control and the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers to fill in a 1,500-foot creek and almost an acre of wetlands in order to build additional ball fields.

The proposed high school and CATE center are in the schematic drawing phase and adjacent land is still being pursued. In January, without approval from the board, the administration threatened to condemn a 10-acre tract adjoining the school site.