MIFFLINBURG — A state Department of Education spokeswoman said there could be consequences if the Mifflinburg School District employs a roofer without an open bidding process first.
"Open," Leah Harris added, "at the time of the project."
In February, the Mifflinburg school board went along with a CSIU-picked roofer that had bid for unspecified projects — back in 2008.
Consequences for improper bidding, said Harris, in the DOE's Harrisburg office, include fines or disciplinary actions against reimbursed projects — whether the project involved is reimbursable or not.
The chosen roofer, Tremco subsidiary Weatherproofing Technologies Inc., of Cleveland, passed a generic bidding-to-qualify process conducted by the Association of Education Purchasing Agencies, a multi-state bidding program. The Central Susquehanna Intermediate Unit, based in Montandon, participates in the program.
The Mifflinburg board decided on the one-stop shopping for 30,000 square feet of new roofing on its elementary school and roughly 7,000 square feet of repairs on two other school roof sections "because of the size of the job," school board President Jill Shambach said in a phone call in April. Shambach did not return phone calls Thursday.
Charles Peterson Jr., CSIU's cooperative business services director, told the Mifflinburg board that Weatherproofing Technologies was picked from a pool of one.
Valley roofer Max Bossert said that form of pre-job bidding for future work, especially with only one firm likely to be able to meet the specifications, circumvents the state's legally established fair-bidding practices.
Cost double what's needed
The process also results in a roof twice as expensive as need be, Bossert, a former Union County commissioner, asserts.
Based on discussions at school board meetings, the work is expected to cost roughly $600,000, he said. That's about $16 a square foot, when the average price is about $8 a square foot. Bossert's company, Boss Insulation & Roofing Inc., in West Milton, completed the high school roof for slightly less than $8 a square foot last year, he said.
Engineer Jim Hague, a roofing specialist with Foreman Architects Engineers of University Park, said that without the involvement of an independent architect or engineer, it is difficult to assess what roofing needs really are.
The bidding specifications, bid responses and contract for the Mifflinburg roofing work have not been made public, despite The Daily Item's requests for them, initiated April 21, under the Freedom of Information Act. The CSIU has requested 30 days to respond.
Bossert said he requested the specifications for bidding from the school district and was told there were none.
Ads in big-city papers only
The CSIU figured the price by square foot and previous Tremco information. The 2008 call for bids was advertised only in large-city newspapers outside the local area, Peterson said.
Mifflinburg school board members Tom Hosterman and John Bohn voted in March to rescind the contract decision and open the job up to fair bidding practices, but they were defeated, 7-2.
Hosterman said in an April interview that information presented was confusing and there were questions unanswered.
Prices bid years ago can't be reflecting the current market, Bohn said.
"I'm not sure this is the best we could do," Bohn said.
Shambach, the school board president, said CSIU's brokering the deal was attractive "because they provide service from start to finish."
CSIU also gets a 1.5 percent fee for their assistance.
The turn-key service Shambach likes means Tremco will arrange its own architectural service and inspections, but that's problematical, too.
The state Department of Education rejected a Tremco contract at Riverside High School in Beaver County in 2008, stating that architectural services for a project must be obtained by the district, not through Tremco or a purchasing agency like the CSIU.
CSIU's attorney confirmed that five years ago.
Law: Districts must comply
In a 2005 letter to then-CSIU purchasing services manager Jeffrey Kimball, CSIU's attorney, Ellen Enters, of Fox & Rothschild, in Lansdale, said: "Pennsylvania public school districts must continue to independently comply with section 751.1 of the Public School Code … regarding engagement of an architect. ... (They) should not utilize the services of the successful vendors architect or engineer ... (but rather) engage its own independent architect or engineer."
Hague, the University Park roofing specialist, said his firm's experience is that school districts are paying a premium to employ that purchasing agent service, even as it violates bidding ethics and education department requirements.
It's practicing engineering and architecture without a license, he said,
Riverside High School's board voted to rescind its Tremco contract in April 2008 after a special meeting called by a board minority.
Two members of Riverside's board told the Ellwood City Ledger that they would have voted differently in the first go-round if they had known about pending lawsuits against Tremco or been presented with a cost comparison with other roofing contractors.
Roofer: No talks with chief
Bossert said he has been trying to get that information to Mifflinburg school board members, but they cut short his time to comment in open meetings. He met with the district's new superintendent, Daniel Lichtel, on Monday.
"Lichtel told me to take the papers away and leave," he said. "He said he already knew it all."
Lichtel refused to comment Thursday on any aspect of this story.
A spokesman for Pennsylvania roofing manufacturer Carlisle, said the CSIU call for bids leads to just one manufacturer. If a $1 million performance bond is standard, they'll ask for $50 million. "A local contractor can't provide that," said Mike Ducharme, Carlisle's director of product marketing.
Bossert said they'll ask for capability with items a roofing specialist usually does not provide, like concrete work.
"It's complex games they play," Ducharme said. "They're only successful in public works. You rarely see Tremco used on warehouses or retail facilities. They've carved out their niche" where public money is spent.
"Considering the financial state of most school districts these days," he added, "it's amazing they're so ready to spend 100 percent more than the going rate for projects and not willing to even have a dialog on it."
Carlisle sued the Cumberland Valley School District for not following standard state bidding requirements to make a point, Ducharme said. The district contends the contracting was legally bid through the CSIU, according to a report in The Patriot-News.
This is roofing, Ducharme said, but similar bidding goes on with athletic field turf, stadiums, and bus fleets through purchasing agents like the CSIU or Association of Educational Purchasing Agencies.
"It's just mind-boggling the amount of money they channel," Ducharme said.
There isn't a major roofing manufacturer — Carlisle or Firestone or Johns Mandville or GAF — that's afraid of the competitive bidding process, he said.
"We're all comfortable taking our shot at work in an open and transparent process," he said.
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