Friday, August 20, 2010  02:51 AM



The architecture firm that designed improvements for the state deaf and blind schools said the Ohio School Facilities Commission signed off on cost estimates four times, then decided to add a union-only construction clause that probably drove the cost of bids way past the budgeted amount.

The cost impact of the pro-union “project labor agreement” wasn’t included in any of the estimates that were sent out for bids, according to a statement from Andrew Maletz, vice president of SHP Leading Design.

The only way to know how much the agreement added to the cost would be to get rid of it, said Rachel Miller, a public-relations consultant for the firm. “It is a suggestion,” she said.

State and union officials have said that the design might explain why the bids came back $11.4million over the $28million general-construction budget.

SHP responded that the commission and its construction manager, Bovis Lend Lease, reviewed the design and agreed that all estimates were good.

The school facilities commission “plays a significant role in the cost estimate,” Maletz’s statement said. “They are involved from the very beginning and throughout each of the four design phases. Each phase does not move forward without the OSFC’s review and approval.”

Commission spokesman Rick Savors acknowledged that the labor agreement “came in late on this particular project.”

The arrangement apparently limited the number of subcontracting bids, but whether that increased the cost hasn’t been determined, Savors said. He said everything is on the table to get costs down.

As far as the commission having partial responsibility for estimating construction costs, “that’s absolutely true,” Savors said. “We don’t believe that any one member is more or less responsible.”

Savors said in July that the commission didn’t think the project labor agreement was to blame because it “is going to be built into the estimate anyway,” and high bids typically stemmed from the building’s design or materials.

A union official who signed the agreement blamed SHP’s design for the high cost last week, but several contractors said that the labor agreement “had a significant impact on their bids,” according to the SHP statement.

“We had one bid package (for kitchen equipment) in this project that was exempt from the (agreement), and it was the only package to come in under budget and had twice the number of bidders than any other bid package,” SHP said.