A dispute may be brewing between the School District and the contractor building the new Horace O'Bryant Middle School over a bonus the company is set to be paid for savings realized during the project.
The bonus of $243,502 represents 40 percent of a total $608,755 Coastal Construction claims it has saved the district on the $38.6 million project. Payment has been approved by the district, but not yet issued.
Caught in between is the district's Audit and Finance Committee, which debated the matter Monday at a meeting described as "contentious" at times by Larry Murray, a citizen watchdog in attendance.
Complicating the issue is that the school construction is not scheduled to be completed until spring.
Also, School Board policy dictates that it must sign off on change orders of more than $25,000, but in this case, Schools Superintendent Mark Porter already authorized the eventual payment, justifying it by saying the payout wouldn't add to the final estimated construction.
The issue will be revisited at the next School Board meeting, at 5 p.m. Tuesday in Marathon.
For his part, Porter is in no hurry to expedite the process, saying Tuesday that he would not authorize payment of the bonus until all the work is done and the final tally of the costs is in.
"No money will be paid out until the project is completed," Porter said. "It would be inappropriate to do so. There will be ample opportunity to review it and make a final determination, but for now nothing will be paid out."
Under the 60-40 split specified in the county's contract with Coastal, the district would pocket $365,253, rest of the savings, if the bonus is paid out.
Construction is still on schedule, Porter said.
"My understanding is that they are on track," he said.
"At this point we're still confident it will be completed in June and ready to accept students in August."
School Board Chairman Andy Griffiths on Tuesday said he agreed with the superintendent that the bonus payment can wait until the school is officially finished.
"You can't pay a commission on savings until the project is completed," Griffiths said. "That's just common sense. There may be other complicated details that I'm not aware of, but common sense tells me that you have to wait until the project is completed to calculate the savings.
"The contractor shouldn't make a savings because he's omitting things from the project."
The superintendent's explanation of the matter hasn't changed since the discussion began, Griffiths added.
Current Audit and Finance Committee Chairman Roger McVeigh hadn't returned a call from The Citizen requesting a comment by press time, but former Chairman Stuart Kessler, who triggered the brouhaha in mid-November with a report to the committee, listed "unauthorized contract modification and premature recognition of 'savings,' no legal review," "claims of savings unsupported," and "change order not approved by the School Board" as among his concerns.