- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 21, 2006

The $25 million renovation of McKinley Technology High School in Northeast has cost more than $80 million because of questionable contracting and design errors, a D.C. audit reports.

The report by D.C. City Auditor Deborah K. Nichols singles out for criticism the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which served as project manager for the McKinley renovation under a deal with the public school system.

The Army Corps issued more than $11.2 million in no-bid contracts for the project, including more than $6 million to D.C.-based McKissack & McKissack, an architectural firm.

“In awarding contracts on a sole-source basis, [the Army Corps] may have not used the most qualified vendors at the most competitive prices,” the audit states.

“Overall, [the school system] failed in providing the necessary planning, monitoring and oversight of the project,” Miss Nichols wrote.

City officials have touted McKinley’s renovation as the cornerstone of a renewed effort to repair D.C. schools. Opened in 2004, the school aims to provide a challenging liberal-arts education and hands-on experience in fields such as information, biomedical and broadcast technology.

“I had problems with something going from $25 million to $75 million and what were the issues that allowed that to happen,” said D.C. Council member Kathy Patterson, Ward 3 Democrat.

Mrs. Patterson, who was out of town yesterday, said she requested the audit after becoming concerned about reports of cost overruns two years ago.

The audit said the renovation was budgeted for $25 million in 2000, but total costs have exceeded $80 million as of this year.

But Army Corps officials said the project was budgeted at $76.5 million, not $25 million, and that costs have risen about 5.8 percent above original projections.

In a letter to Miss Nichols, Col. Robert J. Davis, district engineer for the Army Corps in Baltimore, said the project complied with federal contracting rules. He called the prices negotiated with contractors “fair and reasonable.”

Miss Nichols wrote that Army Corps officials awarded the no-bid contracts after hearing from D.C. contracting officials that small and local businesses needed to be hired.

The school system did not develop McKinley’s curriculum before devising a project feasibility study, the audit states. The results were cost overruns and a design based on the ideas of school officials rather than on the final approved plans.

School officials later developed details for the curriculum and pushed through change orders to pay for the extra work, according to the audit.

Superintendent Clifford B. Janey said he agreed with Miss Nichols’s recommendations and has enacted several reforms. In a letter to Miss Nichols, he said the school system will coordinate with the Army Corps to see what, if any, cost overruns can be recovered.

Mr. Janey also said the management of all renovation projects in the planning or design phase has been transferred from the Army Corps to the school system.

In his letter, Col. Davis said the project has been a challenge because of frequent changes in the management of the school system.

“It is worth noting that during the eight years the [Army Corps] has supported DCPS, there has been a significant amount of turnover in the key leadership within DCPS, including five different superintendents and seven different facility chiefs,” he wrote.

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