The East Baton Rouge Parish School Board listened to its lawyers Thursday night explain their legal strategy in addressing demands for more money from the general contractor renovating and expanding Baton Rouge Magnet High School.
The board took no action after meeting for about an hour behind closed doors in an “executive session.”
In addition to attorneys, the board heard from members of CSRS/Garrard Program Management, the private partnership that oversees most school construction for the school system.
After the meeting, board President Barbara Freiberg said the board just “received information.”
“We have some disagreements and were hoping we can reach a compromise,” Freiberg said.
In July 2010, MAPP Construction of Baton Rouge beat out several other bidders and was awarded a $45.9 million contract for the expansion and renovation project of the landmark 85-year-old high school located at Government and Eugene streets.
Domoine Rutledge, general counsel for the school system, said Wednesday that MAPP has requested several change orders to its construction contract from CSRS, but the two sides have not been able to agree on many of the requested change orders. At least $1 million is in dispute, Rutledge said.
CSRS directed MAPP to continue working — with the idea that the two sides will work things out later — and not interrupt construction, Rutledge said.
But MAPP has formally asked to enter mediation now to resolve these disputes, he said.
Rutledge said MAPP also has argued that it needs to shift to a “compression schedule,” which would give it more money to hire additional people so it could complete the project on time. The board has not approved the request.
Rutledge said the school system needs more documents from MAPP that justify the contractor’s assertions before it can agree to mediation.
MAPP attorneys with the firm Sexton Hebert have submitted a public records request seeking documents of its own. MAPP’s President, Mike Polito, wouldn’t comment on the dispute in an interview Wednesday.
Later in the evening in a related matter, the School Board shot down in a 3-6 vote a proposal to create a “director of construction and capital projects” position on staff to handle the work that CSRS handles now.
CSRS’s contract expires in 2013. If approved, the school system wouldn’t necessarily have to fill the new job until then.
Board member Randy Lamana, who brought up the idea and voted for it with members Jerry Arbour and Vereta Lee, complimented CSRS’s work, saying the company had just shown its expertise in the MAPP dispute.
“I think in our executive session alone, it shows they’re doing a great job,” Lamana said.
Lamana, however, noted that CSRS earns $1.5 million a year for its work, and that a staff person would receive a much smaller salary of about $58,000 a year.
“I think saving $1 million-plus a year is a good deal for the taxpayers,” Lamana said.
Superintendent John Dilworth said that Caddo Parish, where he spent most of his career, has an in-house person who handles a lot of CSRS’s duties.
But Dilworth said that CSRS is doing good work, and if a staff person is hired to replace the company, many other changes would also have to be made.
Board member Craig Freeman said the debate is premature until CSRS’s contract is evaluated in 2012.
“This is one part of a larger discussion we must have,” he said.
Freeman voted against creating the job position as did board members Connie Bernard, Jill Dyason, Barbara Freiberg, Evelyn Ware Jackson and David Tatman. Board members Kenyetta Nelson-Smith and Tarvald Smith were absent.