Several employees working on the West Brook High School field house and auditorium have walked off the job, saying the Beaumont Independent School District has failed to pay them for work rendered.
The workers were tasked with, among other things, putting up sheetrock at the West Brook projects, which are both currently a year or more beyond the anticipated completion date. The workers said they will not return, however, until roughly $500,000 in back pay has been submitted. The West Brook field house and auditorium work was being performed as part of the $388.6 million bond initiative approved by voters in May 2008.
BISD’s bond project manager, Parsons Corporation, held an impromptu meeting regarding the allegations Tuesday afternoon, Dec. 18, in front of the partially complete West Brook auditorium. According to reports from that meeting, Parsons blamed funding issues in explaining the state of construction at the high school.
To date, more than $10 million has been awarded to various contractors to perform the auditorium and field house projects, although it is unclear what portion of that allotted amount has been paid to contractors. This amount includes $1.7 million for sprinklers and various multi-million-dollar contracts covering field house work, in addition to nearly $8 million awarded for the construction of the auditorium. Most of the contracts have centered on “Phase 5” work to the West Brook field house.
In February 2011, HRE was contracted for $2 million to complete “Phase 5” work on the West Brook field house, although it was noted in the bid process that the company should not be chosen based on “questionable performance issues with HRE based on references.” But $143,000 was paid to HRE, according to Parsons, before a court order citing faulty bid procedures halted work on that contract in May 2011. A contract was then awarded to Morganti of Texas Inc. to complete the work at an additional cost of $1.7 million in June 2011, with a separate contract given to the contractor to work on mechanical, plumbing and lockers at the field house for an additional $415,000 in July 2011. That project alone was $262,000 over budget, according to Parsons’ estimates. In October 2011, again the “Phase 5” field house project was awarded to Morganti for $1.999 million, at which time the project was estimated by Parsons to be roughly $450,000 over budget.
But as of Dec. 19, the field house is still in disrepair. Photographs taken at the site show sheetrock from the walls not extending to the ceiling, rusted areas in the common rooms, buckling floors, lockers in disrepair, a leaking roof causing bulges in the student weight training area, multi-tone painting, multi-textured paneling, and a general state of cosmetic disarray.
Jennifer Swatner, a member of the Citizen Advisory Bond Committee tasked with overseeing the bond project results on behalf of the Beaumont community, said the work is “unacceptable.”
“We (the CABC) said we would watch (the bond project) progress when we sold this ($388 million) bond to the community, to our friends,” she said. “It’s embarrassing for these projects to look this way.”
Swatner was part of the meeting with Parsons representatives, BISD board member Tom Neild and others, held Dec. 18 at the West Brook construction sites. The meeting revealed little in an anticipated fix to the problems associated with the shoddy work and non-completion of the West Brook projects.
“On these types of projects, you pay a ‘percent complete,’” trustee Neild said. “Each month, (the contractor) is entitled to draw a percentage of the work complete.
“For every dollar that’s billed, 5 percent is held out for retainage.”
Neild could not say for certain that $500,000 was due to the workers that left the West Brook job site, but did confirm that the workers were not paid as they had expected to be.
“All I was told by Morganti is that on the auditorium, the workers walked off the job because they have not been paid,” Neild said. “The reason they have not paid the contractors is because the school district has not paid Morganti, according to them.
“It’s become quite a complicated issue because there have been changes in the work out at the project. Parsons, our program manager, is stating that there has been some work done, but that it was covered in the initial contract.”
A second meeting to negotiate payment for the contract workers is tentatively scheduled for Friday morning, Dec. 21, at 9 a.m.
“Hopefully all these things will get resolved so that we can get our schools in order, and get our projects complete,” Neild said, sounding optimistic as to the outcome of the proposed Friday meeting. “I want somebody to explain to me how we got in this situation. I’m saying there are several areas of unacceptable work. It’s not that we are expecting perfection; I’m expecting it to be done and to the standards called for in the contract specs.”
Neild said the projects might end up costing taxpayers even more money in the long run.
“My position is that we have hired Parsons to be our project manager and they need to get this together in a nice little package – give us all the figures,” he said. “We need to be fair and honest about this; if we need to pay additional funds, then we should pay additional funds.
“But we don’t have enough facts to make that decision at this time.”
Neild said BISD was promised the field house for use in the August/September 2012 time frame.
“The schedule that they gave us now is hopefully sometime in February (the 13th), they will show a ‘substantial completion,’” he said, then added, “but we’ve pretty much concluded that will not be a realistic hope.”
As for the work that has already been completed, Neild said he is extremely dissatisfied.
“There are several items of work that are not acceptable. There are still some ‘finished’ items that are not complete work,” he said, then referenced problems such as drainage issues and incomplete tile work. “We were supposed to be in there prior to August/September. There has not been a real articulated reason as to why it hasn’t been completed already. That’s creating a lot of the problems.
“Parsons is supposed to make sure before we pay out that work meets requirements.”
With the last work done on the West Brook field house dating back to the 1960s, Neild said it is imperative that the construction being performed now be done in a manner that will last for years to come.
“There will many more years before work is done at that site. What we do now will have to last our children many, many years,” he said. “We are expecting nothing less than something that will stand the test of time.”
As it stands now, deficiencies are apparent just months into use of the facility.
“These facilities belong to the people of Beaumont,” Neild said. “We’re accountable to each and every person for the money that goes into this system. I encourage citizens to ask questions and hold us – as trustees and fellow citizens - to hold us accountable for ensuring that their tax dollars meant for the students of Beaumont are used in the right way.”
Morganti Vice President Jim Peace was out of the office but is expected to return to Beaumont for Friday’s meeting; he could not be reached for comment. Parsons had no comment to offer on the project delay and claims of unacceptable work product at this time.