The Pocantico Hills school district, which awarded competitively bid contracts for an $18 million building renovation, improperly did not bid additional work even though it exceeded the $35,000 threshold for competitive bidding, state Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli said in a recently released audit.
The district issued bonds with an authorized limit of $18 million in June 2010. As of June 22, 2011, the school system had spent about $14 million. School officials issued change orders—formal contract modifications— that “significantly increased the scope and cost of the initial contracts awarded through the bid process,” the audit found. Changes to the four main construction contracts increased the project by $1.7 million—18 percent—over the $9.5 million in the original contract awards.
The district’s change-order policy, adopted Nov. 23, 2009, allowed the interim schools superintendent to approve change orders up to $50,000 after receiving recommendations and approvals from the architect and/or construction manager, the audit said. It also received approval from the state Education Department. There are exceptions to the requirements for bidding large change orders when there are emergency situations.
“However, based on a review of the bid documents provided by the District, the change orders varied significantly from the original plan and may have altered the essential identity or main purpose of the contract; therefore, they may have constituted new undertakings,” the audit said.
The district said in its response to the report that there were a number of inaccuracies and omissions of fact in the draft audit. For example, the reason for the electrical change order was that bad weather knocked down about 10 light stanchions on school grounds. Upon further review, the project’s architect recommended replacing 41 stanchions that were instable due to structural concrete and pole base instability. A $129,000 change order was necessary for the curtain-wall in the library because the general contractors found unforseen problems after deconstructing case work around a window, the letter said.
In its response to district comments, the Comptroller’s Office generally stood by its findings in the audit. By law, the school board has 90 days to adopt a written corrective action plan and provide it to his office.
This is a chart included in the audit report: