Lawmaker finally questions inflated cost of DOE projects
What could you buy for a million dollars? Would you believe that’s about the going rate to build ONE portable classroom in state Department of Education schools?
The astronomical cost to complete a seemingly easy DOE project is an issue this summer, with the state looking for contractors to install air conditioners in 1,000 hot classrooms statewide by the end of the year in a $100 million project.
House District 41 Rep. Matthew LoPresti of Oahu reported last week that the A/C units won’t be running when the 2016-17 school year starts on Aug. 1.
In fact, the whole project has been delayed due to the “outrageously high” bids from contractors to install air conditioning, he said.
As an example, the DOE indicated the bid for one photovoltaic-powered air conditioning project with an estimated cost of $20,000 came in more than $100,000.
LoPresti has asked the attorney general to investigate if there is a conspiracy to defraud taxpayers by artificially inflating bids for profit at the expense of school children.
“We cannot just wait for another round of bids and hope they are reasonable,” said Rep. LoPresti. “Classrooms in my district and across the state will soon be too hot for students to learn and teachers to teach. We must find a way to get this project moving forward.
“At the same time, the bids for the work came in so high that it is possible contractors who know the state is hard-pressed to get this work done conspired to submit bids much higher than reasonable to make unreasonable profits.”
According to the DOE, the project must be either delayed due to the high bids, or far fewer classrooms than expected will be cooled.
LoPresti said there have also been complaints from contractors that the bid specifications for a $20,000 project were up to 100 pages long, and that makes submitting a bid expensive and complicated.
“I would like the DOE to take a look at the bidding process and simplify the documents if possible,” he said. “We need to get to the bottom of why these bids are so high. Whatever the reason, we need to fix it.”
Sadly, the “cool schools project” now is being pushed back, with bidding reopened with the new fiscal year that begins July 1, 2016.
“If contractors are gouging the state at a time of great need in our schools, and the students have to suffer because of this, the attorney general must find them and prosecute to the full extent of the law,” LoPresti said. “The public deserves answers as to why bids are coming in suspiciously high, and we cannot just sit by and accept this.”
The Hawaii Legislature needs to find out why state projects are so ridiculously expensive. The DOE should not be wasting funds, given that teachers often have to spend their own money to buy classroom materials for their students.