Florida Keys News - Key West Citizen
Tuesday, April 22, 2014
Coastal appeals delinquency status

Coastal Construction Group of Miami has appealed the School District's decision to place them in delinquency status.

This action, by the company which built the new, $37 million Horace O'Bryant School, is yet another roadblock to final resolution of the ongoing saga between the district and Coastal, which completed work on the controversial project last summer, on time and under budget. Superintendent Mark Porter's reaction to Coastal's action will also delay any further action by the School Board, which will meet at 4 p.m. today in Marathon.

At its last meeting, on April 8, the board approved Porter's recommendation that Coastal be placed into delinquency status, for failing to comply with contractual requirements. This designation precludes Coastal from bidding on future school district construction projects.

Coastal informed the district last week of its intent to appeal the decision.

On Monday, Porter pulled an action item from today's meeting, which would have denied Coastal's appeal, until it comes into compliance with the district's request for documents related to the construction. Instead, Porter has acceded to Coastal's request to kick the can a little further down the road.

"They've said that they're unable to send a representative to attend [today's] meeting, so we're going to give them until the next meeting, on May 13," Porter said on Monday. "It was somewhat short notice for them, they've said. However, in the meantime, nothing has changed. They are still on delinquency status. We've just agreed to give them a little more time to put forward their appeal."

The School District in early January voted unanimously to sue Coastal for breach of contract, and for refusing to cooperate with the auditor charged with leading the investigation into the $37 million project.

The countersuit asserts that Coastal completed its work properly, and on time, and cooperated fully with an attestation completed last summer by former school board member Steve Pribramsky and his firm.

It further states the district had 30 days from the time it paid the final check to Coastal on June 24 to perform any second review of the process, which was not done. And lastly, it states that Coastal is not bound by any of the public records laws the district has accused it of violating.

When asked why he was prepared to delay any further actions against Coastal, Porter bemoaned the district's "unnecessarily adversarial" relationship with the contractor.

"I've always been one of the stronger advocates for the work that Coastal has done for the district," Porter said. "However, recent events have put me in a quandary, and given me some skepticism as to their dealings, and their reasons for not wanting us to view the documents related to the HOB construction."

The reaction to Porter's decision from School Board members was swift.

"So, it's not on the agenda anymore?" District 4's John Dick asked, when asked for comment. "We agreed to consider them delinquents, and they have the right to appeal. I don't think anybody would change their minds. I can't speak for any other board member. I figure this is more like stalling biding time. So, that gives them another couple of weeks. It's not good. What the hell. So we keep stalling. I think this was their plan all along."

District 3's Ed Davidson was even more upset with Porter's decision.

"Once again the Porter administration has made a last minute, policy level agenda change the day before a school board meeting, which I find particularly upsetting because it caters to Coastal Construction's preferences without informing me or discussing the issue, despite my leading the nine-month investigation authorized by the full school board," Davidson said. "Because of the many, many clear violations of contract provisions and procedures by Coastal, I see no reason whatsoever for the administration to allow Coastal to further delay these well-deserved consequences, particularly when the delay of all aspects of these proceedings is their chief intent. In this case, increasing their disqualification level from delinquency to outright disbarment should cost them the ability to get other contracts from other public agencies throughout Florida - which is precisely why they want to delay the day of reckoning."

Also at the meeting, Porter will ask the School Board to offer a new charter agreement to Ocean Studies Charter School, in Tavernier, to allow it to begin offering grades 4 and 5, beginning in the 2014-15 school year.

"It's a conditional permission," Porter said. "And a reasonable request. But it's going to take them some time.

District 4's Dick agreed that Ocean Studies will likely be granted permission to expand.

"That most likely will be approved," Dick said. "They're not going to increase their student count, just their grade levels. We're probably going to base it on them getting more paperwork to the district in the next few weeks. Their finances aren't perfect, but they are consistently going in the right direction.

tschmida@keysnews.com

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