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How many managers did D.C. need in order to buy and install bathroom stalls for the newly renovated Anacostia High School? Let’s count:
We begin with the city, which has placed responsibility with $3.5 billion in school construction with the Office of Public Education Facilities Modernization, which was then headed by City Administrator Allen Lew when the Anacostia contracts were approved.
Next comes the D.C. Partnership for the Revitalization of Education Project, a joint venture of McKissack & McKissack and Brailsford & Dunlavey. Lew outsourced the management of school construction contracts to these firms. (They are paid handsomely for their work, which has expanded to other city construction projects with the creation last year of the Department of General Services. Their most recent contract pays the equivalent of $315,000 per full-time employee.)
Next: the general contractor selected by the city and D.C. PEP. At Anacostia, the city joint venture that in theory would be controlled by a certified local company. In reality, Maryland-based Forrester Construction ran the show. As the general contractor, Forrester contracted directly with suppliers to provide materials needed for a school construction project, including lockers, bleachers, marker boards, and even an art kiln, according to Forrester’s own records (obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request).
Here’s where things get tricky with the bathroom stalls. Instead of contracting directly with the Pennsylvania-based supplier of the school’s “toilet partitions and compartments,” Forrester and Department of General Services records show the $100,000 contract for that work instead went to another general contractor: Blue Skye Construction.
Blue Skye is a well-known local construction company that was very successful at landing city contracts when former Mayor Adrian Fenty was in office. In 2010, the city paid Blue Skye and a joint venture partner nearly $20 million directly for construction work. In 2009, Blue Skye and Donatelli Development were awarded the rights to development of the land next to the Minnesota Avenue Metro station. Blue Skye’s president, Scottie Irving, was close to Fenty and cut an ad for his 2010 reelection campaign.
So why is a well-established contractor managing a piddling $100,000 bathroom stall contract? And does such a small contract even need another level of construction management?
Darrell Pressley, a spokesman for DGS, suggests that the Blue Skye contract is standard industry practice.
“In the instance of the toilet partitions, there are two independent activities that take place, which are the manufacturing/supply of materials and goods, and the installation of the product,” Pressley writes to LL. “The toilet partitions were manufactured by a Pennsylvania company which supplies that product, but does not perform the installation. Toilet partitions are considered a specialty trade, in which this work is typically packaged with other similar work to a company who has the capacity to coordinate and install the work.”
But there’s a problem with this explanation: certified payroll records obtained through another FOIA show that the Pennsylvania-based supplier, Materials Distributors, actually managed its own installer, Atlantic Installations, which is based in Maryland. For more than a year, Materials Distributors sent Blue Skye copies of Atlantic Installations’ payroll sheets, which LL obtained through another FOIA request, showing sporadic work being done by one carpenter who lives in Frederick, Md. The payroll sheets were accompanied with a note from Materials indicating that it was sending the payroll sheets of “our installer.” (On its website, Material Distributors says it’s “always at your service for every aspect of the job, from estimating to installation.”)
Irving says Blue Skye tried to hire a Ward 8 contractor to install the partitions, but the contractor never showed up for the job. As for what Blue Skye was doing on the contract in the first place, Irving says he bid on the job because he was looking to train a new employee as a project manager on a smaller contract. He says his newly hired employee gained valuable experience managing the Anacostia toilet partition contract but that Blue Skye did not turn a profit. Irving says that even if Forrester could have contracted directly with the supplier for a lower cost, the city still benefited from having a local company involved.
“Yeah, the city is paying for me to give [the project manager] on-the-job training,” Irving says, adding that if the District doesn’t increase the capacity of District-based contractors, it’s going to continue to lose more money in terms of tax revenue and construction jobs to out-of-state companies. “Either you’re going to pay now, or you’re going to pay later.”
Though it’s a fair point that the District needs to increase its local capacity of construction contractors, the question is whether opportunities for these kind of gigs are distributed fairly. Blue Skye was already well-established and successful when it won the Anacostia contract. If the city is going to pay extra to help a local contractor, wouldn’t that money be better spent with a less-established contractor?
It’s worth remembering that another contractor close to Fenty, Keith Lomax, also won a contract to manage a single drywall contractor. The drywaller says he was ordered by Forrester to contract through Lomax’s company, which had zero interaction with the drywall crew. A DGS official has since said the agency found that Lomax’s contract did not meet DGS’ “standards” for subcontractors.
One other point: both Forrester and DGS records indicate that the entire $100,000 contract went to a local Certified Business Enterprise. Blue Skye is a CBE, but the Pennsylvania-based supplier and Maryland-based installer are not, indicating that the city may be overstating CBE participation on Anacostia project.
Photo by Darrow Montgomery