At a time when Browards school district cant afford to repair its decaying school buildings, it has spent more than $1 million on a controversial maintenance facility that will likely never be completed.
Broward Schools Superintendent Robert Runcie moved last year to cancel the project, planned for an overgrown lot in a remote section of western Pembroke Pines. Yet the checks kept going out two installments in 2012, totaling just over $1 million.
The question of whether those payments were justified is at the center of a dispute among Runcie, the district administrators who signed the checks, district auditors, and the company involved, Palm Beach County-based Royal Concrete Concepts. Royal Concrete specializes in building portable classrooms/office buildings.
The School Board will likely attempt to sort it all out in the coming weeks.
One thing is certain: Royal Concrete has delivered no buildings, obtained no building permit, nor even provided a completed set of building plans. And now it is asking for another $200,000 to agree to an out-of-court settlement, according to a letter the companys attorney sent to the school district last month. The company says it is still owed money for design fees and other work, plus a delivery fee of $48,545 to bring its portable buildings to the districts property.
School district staffers who signed off on the payments said they were legally bound to pay for work that had been done. Internal auditors, however, say the district made a million-dollar mistake.
School Board members demanded the project be shut down about two years ago. As it lingers, some wonder why the district has been unable to exit the deal.
Jeez, what do you have to do to kill a project around here? School Board member Nora Rupert told The Miami Herald in a recent e-mail. Take out a billboard ad?
The Florida Department of Law Enforcement, prompted by a complaint from a district employee, has investigated the issue.
Law enforcement found nothing criminal, but FDLE concluded that it did appear as if there was a concerted effort by an entire chain of command within the school system to make sure Royal Concretes invoices got paid, even regardless as to whether or not [the School Board] actually owed Royal Concrete the total amount paid .
Browards internal auditors, meanwhile, criticized the district for making payments before the company had delivered permitted drawings or obtained a building permit. Two audit reports one in 2011 and a second released in May 2013 cited work that was paid for but not done, including $112,275 for permitted drawings and $129,279 for drainage work.
The land is in no condition for building. So the portables Broward purchased remain in Royal Concretes Okeechobee plant unfinished, unused and gathering dust.
Reached on his cell phone, Royal Concrete President Dean Locke declined to comment.
Public records obtained by The Miami Herald (including FDLE reports, school district staff emails and legal documents) demonstrate that high-level Broward administrators felt strongly that the company should be paid.
In a Nov. 17, 2011, email, then-Deputy Superintendent Tom Lindner promised Royal Concretes president that he would even testify on the companys behalf if the disputed contract ever ended up in court. Lindner wrote that hed already alerted the superintendent to his intentions, and that many other staff members felt the same.