- The Washington Times - Monday, April 3, 2006

A recent government audit has found millions of dollars in cost overruns and months of delays in the construction of Barnard Elementary School by the D.C. public school system and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

Though the project was supposed to cost $17.1 million and be finished by September 2002 under a fixed-price contract, the school at 430 Decatur St. NW did not open until January 2003 and ended up costing closer to $21 million, according to the D.C. Office of the Inspector General.

Inspector General Charles J. Willoughby’s audit, which was issued in final draft on March 23, says the Barnard construction “was not completed by the established deadline, and the project experienced over a 20 percent cost growth, amounting to more than $3.5 million.”

Cost estimates for the project were based on specifications that were only 75 percent complete, so officials had to issue 77 contract modifications that totaled $3.5 million to cover work not in the original estimate, according to the report.

The project was fast-tracked with incomplete designs partly because the school system insisted on building the school in 21 months, when the average school construction project usually takes about 30 months, officials said.

The Army Corps defended its handling of the project.

District engineer Col. Robert J. Davis said D.C. school officials insisted on a “deliberately aggressive” construction timeline. He said the Army Corps warned school officials that their schedule could result in a 20 percent increase in construction costs.

“In weighing this cost risk in balance with other objectives, DCPS leadership at the time considered these risks acceptable in the interest of pursuing an aggressive schedule for project completion,” Col. Davis wrote.

The school system requested help from the Army Corps in 1998 to manage its capital-improvement program as building conditions worsened. The Barnard project was one of several capital projects overseen by the Army Corps.

The partnership with the Army Corps “was essential to DCPS during a period of instability, characterized by high personnel turnover,” including five directors for the school system’s Office of Facilities Management in six years, the audit stated.

Col. Davis also said the project complied with federal contracting rules because it is not unusual for the government to award design and construction contracts for projects in which technical specifications are only 35 percent complete. In the case of Barnard, he stated that designs were 80 percent finished.

D.C. Schools Superintendent Clifford B. Janey, in a letter to Mr. Willoughby, said he agrees with the reports findings.

“DCPS has substantially changed its process to minimize the possibility that the conditions noted by the Inspector General’s staff will reoccur in future projects,” Mr. Janey wrote.

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