April 17, 2014

Education

Classroom Struggle

A construction project to relieve school crowding is at a standstill - four years after talks first began.

Pat Dunnigan | 5/1/2005
Early this year, the Broward County School District's chief auditor sought to resolve what had gone wrong with a school construction project -- a stalled, four-year effort to build a 24-classroom addition onto Miramar High School.

But within weeks of the audit's release, it was the audit itself that seemed stalled, as a prominent architectural firm sought to absolve itself of blame and school board members appeared reluctant to accept the auditor's findings.

Chief Auditor Patrick Reilly says the district's building officials, the department of education and the architect share "joint culpability" for the problems.

In addition to internal reforms, Reilly recommends that the district seek a $185,900 reimbursement from Miami-based architectural firm Zyscovich for the project's original plans. The plans were abandoned after protracted haggling over whether a sprinkler system and other fire safety updates could substitute for a four-hour firewall between the old and new structures.

Reilly's audit acknowledges that it was the district's idea to switch to the alternative plan, and he also acknowledges that district officials offered differing opinions on whether the original design could be made to comply with fire codes.

But he says the architectural firm bears some responsibility for its failure to produce a code-compliant design in the first place. An audit committee and the district's construction department agreed.

In meetings with the auditor, the school's construction deputy and Superintendent Frank Till, Zyscovich Vice President Jose Murguido complained that his firm should have been allowed to submit a response that could be incorporated into the audit report. His complaints reached school board Chairwoman Stephanie Kraft, who asked Till about withdrawing the audit.

Till, instead, recommended that the board defer accepting the audit so that it could be determined if it was "flawed." The board agreed.

But the move drew complaints from some audit committee members. "I just felt it was a slap in the face," says committee member Lori Glasser. Committee member and longtime board critic Charlotte Greenbarg says, "It's about money," noting that Zyscovich and its lobbyist are generous contributors to school board campaigns.

Murguido notes that the project has been through four chief building officials -- none of whom formally rejected the original design. "In the time that I've had this little job in Broward County, I have designed and built three middle schools ... and three elementary schools, and I still can't get my
$5-million classroom addition approved in Broward County."

Tags: Southeast, Education, Housing/Construction

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