BISD's Walker Electric costs district thousands

Calvin Walker

When the Beaumont Independent School District’s Odom Middle School opened a student-operated fruit stand to show the pupils the value of a hard-earned dollar and the reward of providing organic food offerings to the public at a reasonable cost, the effort was heralded by a community appreciative of the service. That service has now been threatened since the school district’s electrician of record, Calvin Walker, billed the district in excess of $7,000 to provide simple wiring to the school’s fruit stand but failed to garner approval from the city of Beaumont’s building codes inspector before declaring the project a done-deal.

Expert analysis of the fruit stand project by local electricians state that the job was not only done improperly, but also at a rate more than double what it’s worth. To add insult to injury, the fruit stand has now been closed pending city of Beaumont code approval, and the school’s fruit stand operator said the students are still in the process of seeking roughly $6,000 to complete the campus project.

‘Friend’ prices

After saving up to buy a used portable building from a now-defunct Beaumont business, Odom Middle School advisor Will Humber and his agriculture students embarked on a mission to convert the old shaved-ice stand into an air-conditioned fruit stand for use in selling the products of the campus garden.

In April, BISD officials sanctioned district electrician Calvin Walker to piggy-back some electricity from a nearby campus building to the small fruit stand. According to a permit to perform the work filled out at the city of Beaumont by Walker’s wife and business partner, Stacy, the electricians were going to perform commercial service and install one outlet, switch or receptacle. After billing for more than 100 man-hours, rental use of the company’s bucket truck, material, and a 10 percent markup, the total cost for Walker to provide the outlet was $7,300.

A paid invoice from BISD shows that Walker’s company received a request to perform the Odom project April 9, with work commencing at the site April 20. Within 10 days, according to the invoice, the job was complete. In that time, Walker billed for three electrical laborers, each making $60 an hour for 14 hours; two laborers each earning $45 an hour for 32 hours apiece; $1,000 to rent his bucket truck for eight hours; more than $700 for materials; and a $175 charge to provide the materials. A call to Walker’s Electric for a breakdown of the costs was not answered.

A separate Southeast Texas electrician reviewed the project, however, and did give a breakdown of the costs that should have been incurred to provide service to the fruit stand and also pointed out the problems in the job Walker performed at the campus that could have caused the facility not to pass city of Beaumont muster.

“At the high end, trade service pricing came to about $3,000 for that job,” the electrician advised. “No way could you charge more than that. That includes about 18 man hours to do it all, and $325 a day for a lift (truck.)”

According to the electrician, the Walker project wasn’t even worth the $3,000 high-end quote. He said, the “service mast is not tied back properly, the wiring is supposed to be 8 feet above the porch, the weather head has blue wire nuts – probably not a legal connection, the tie back is wrapped around the wire and should have been secured to the building (and) not the conduit, and no main breaker in the panel at the stand – it shouldn’t be in use or passed for inspection by the city.”

The expert who quoted electrical pricing for The Examiner elected not to be named but was called to inspect the Odom fruit stand work after a Beaumont city code inspector arrived to investigate why the fruit stand was open without the proper electrical permitting.

Odom agriculture advisor Humber said he was unaware of any problems with the electrical wiring when questioned by the city inspector Tuesday, June 25. “I had no idea,” he reiterated, to which the city inspector offered up a point of contact who had been informed there were problems that needed to be addressed before the city would approve the construction.

“We told Mr. Walker,” the city inspector advised. Humber walked the inspector through the small portable building before arriving at the decision to shut down the fruit stand until the electrical power confusion could be straightened out.

“(The inspector) didn’t say we had to close,” Humber said. “But he did have some concerns and I wouldn’t feel comfortable having my kiddos in there until everything is all straightened out.”

The electrician called to Odom to review Walker’s work said, in his opinion, the work was shoddy, but no students were likely in harm’s way.

“I wouldn’t say they’re in any danger, but the work’s not done right,” he said. “These kids still need more money to finish this project, and it’s a shame they can’t get it from the district. The money is there; it just got given to the wrong place.”