N.O. school board will rebid disputed contract _lowres

Nolan Marshall

The Orleans Parish School Board plans to rebid a construction project that has been at the center of the latest controversy to engulf the local school district.

That decision, combined with a quirk in state law that will affect how the project is designed, is likely to delay the building of a new Edna Karr High School by about six months, according to Superintendent Stan Smith. He said the school should be finished by late 2017, instead of early that year.

“It’s going to cause a delay because we have to go back to the traditional process,” Smith said. “Fortunately, we do have a good start on it.”

The school district almost awarded the contract last month to a company called Woodward Design+Build before finding out that one of Woodward’s subcontractors, Nolmar Construction, is owned by relatives of School Board President Nolan Marshall Jr.

After the conflict of interest came to light, district officials scrapped Woodward’s proposal and started negotiating with the company that put in the second-lowest bid, a joint venture called Womack-Tillage.

But talks failed after the district asked Womack to bring down its price, Smith said, adding, “Unfortunately, we were not able to reach a solution with Womack-Tillage on the scope of work and a contract value that was within our budget.”

Further complicating matters, a temporary state exemption for the school district that allows for a more streamlined contracting process expires this week. Ordinarily, public agencies hire an architect to design a project, then choose whichever construction company promises to build that design for the least amount of money.

The exemption, drawn up by the state Legislature, has allowed one firm to do both the design and the construction, an arrangement that’s supposed to prevent cost overruns and improve efficiency by getting architects and construction managers on the same page.

With the exemption having expired, however, the school district will have to go back to the traditional approach, though Smith noted that some of the design work in the case of Edna Karr is already complete, which should limit the delay.