- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 2, 2007

The D.C. official now in charge of modernizing city schools yesterday fired three contractors who overspent by millions and missed deadlines while renovating a middle school.

Allen Y. Lew, director of the city’s Office of Public Education Facilities Modernization, said he sent a warning to other contractors and intends to “change the culture” in the school system.

“The message is that if you really want to maintain the standard that we’re looking to achieve, which is excellence, then we want you as part of our team,” Mr. Lew said. “If you’re not looking to achieve those same standards, then we really invite you to get your resumes printed up and look elsewhere.”

The contracts to renovate the Hardy Middle School in Georgetown were terminated for the Temple Group and for Arrow Construction Co. and W.M. Schlosser, who worked as a joint venture.

Mr. Lew said the $33 million project is six months to a year behind schedule and about $12 million over budget.

Work on the school began in 2005 and was scheduled to be complete in December but now will not be finished until the start of next school year, officials said.

Mr. Lew also blamed staff in the school system’s Office of Facilities Management and said he has reassigned employees who were working on the project.

Mike Darling, a project manager for the Arrow-Schlosser project, said the contractors did nothing wrong and blamed the delays on the school system because it was often slow in responding to requests for information.

“We tried to be very proactive,” he said. “You can bring ahorse to water, but you can’t make him drink.”

Mr. Darling said he did not think the contractors would take legal action because the contract is being terminated for convenience, which means they will be paid for the work done.

Requests for proposals for a new contract will be submitted this week while local firms McKissack & McKissack and Brailsford & Dunlavey handle construction and project management, officials said.

Lew spokesman Tony Robinson said projects at Brightwood Elementary School in Northwest and John Philip Sousa Middle School in Southeast also were behind schedule, but there are no plans to end those contracts.

D.C. Mayor Adrian M. Fenty, a Democrat, supported Mr. Lew’s decision, saying the situation at Hardy highlights a history of not being able to deliver services and resources to schools.

“This administration has to find a way to say yes to the principals,” Mr. Fenty said.

Mr. Lew, who was hired by Mr. Fenty in June, made the decision less than a week after he asked the D.C. Council to give him control of schools maintenance, which is handled by the school system’s facilities management office, under schools Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee.

Mr. Fenty said he supports the request because he thinks the responsibility is better suited to Mr. Lew’s office than Mrs. Rhee’s.

Some council members are skeptical about Mr. Lew’s ability to change the office. Others worry that he might focus too much on repairs and sideline modernization.

Last week, the council asked Mr. Lew to draft a transition plan outlining what would change under his direction.

Mrs. Rhee also has sought additional authority, asking the council in August to give her more control — including hiring and firing power — over personnel in the school system’s central office.

Mr. Fenty yesterday said legislation that would give Mrs. Rhee more power is in the final stages of being drafted.

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