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Builder dismissed from school district project

By Staff | Jun 5, 2009

Officials from the Lee County School District announced last week that Target Builders had been terminated from a capital project to consolidate Michigan International Academy and Lee Middle into the James Stephens International Academy.
The district reported that Target Builders started working on the second phase of the project without securing a bond. On May 28 Superintendent James Browder said the project was stopped immediately.
According to Browder, the company failed to bond the project due to internal corporate issues, but Florida statutes require construction projects to have a bond before any work begins.
Browder explained in a memorandum to the school board that a notice to proceed is never issued to a contractor unless all of the required documentation is provided to the construction director.
“Target was never given a notice to proceed with the work,” he said. “It’s unfortunate this happened, but staff immediately stepped in to work through this situation and get the project back on track.”
A district project manager, who allegedly knew about the situation, was asked to resign.
Suffolk Construction Company, a nationally-based company with more than $4 billion in work projects, will now bond the construction on James Stephens International Academy, the report added.
The company also agreed to maintain the same time schedule as Target Builders and will not cost the district any additional capital.
“Suffolk Construction is a well-known, national organization that will provide a school facility the entire community will be proud of,” said Browder.
The issue is resolved, according to district officials, but Lee County School Board Member Robert Chilmonik insists that the failure of the district to secure a bond on the project was a severe liability to taxpayers.
“I brought it up to the school board in 2006 and asked, obviously, that we put into place processes so that doesn’t happen again,” he said. “How do we know at this point whether it might happen again?”
In 2006 it was discovered that a construction project at Hector A. Cafferata Elementary had not secured a bond. According to the school board auditor, there was a six-week period between construction commencement and bond execution.
The Lee County School District received no legal penalty for failing to secure the bond in 2006, yet taxpayers and individual school board members may have been financially responsible if a subcontractor made a claim.
On Thursday, Chilmonik sent a memorandum to Browder asking:
“Who reported the bonding issue, have similar instances occurred and has the board installed a procedure to prevent the issue from happening again?”
Two years ago former Lee County School Board Auditor Julie Nieminski recommended that the district continue to monitor its construction project file to stay in compliance with performance and payment bonds.
“Although the Construction Services Department has strengthened their mitigating controls, the School Board Audit Office advises that monitoring through the system should still be considered as a fraud deterrent measure,” wrote Nieminski in her 2007 audit report.
Her report also stated that district officials should continue to verify that evidence of a bond is recorded into a construction project file and that expiring liability insurance policies are updated by a contractor throughout the project.