Loose Lips

How Many Managers Are Needed to Install Bathroom Stalls?

How many managers did D.C. need in order to buy and install bathroom stalls for the newly renovated Anacostia High School? Let's count:

We begin with the city, which has placed responsibility with $3.5 billion in school construction with the Office of Public Education Facilities Modernization, which was then headed by City Administrator Allen Lew when the Anacostia contracts were approved.

Next comes the D.C. Partnership for the Revitalization of Education Project, a joint venture of McKissack & McKissack and Brailsford & Dunlavey. Lew outsourced the management of school construction contracts to these firms. (They are paid handsomely for their work, which has expanded to other city construction projects with the creation last year of the Department of General Services. Their most recent contract pays the equivalent of $315,000 per full-time employee.)

Next: the general contractor selected by the city and D.C. PEP. At Anacostia, the city joint venture that in theory would be controlled by a certified local company. In reality, Maryland-based Forrester Construction ran the show. As the general contractor, Forrester contracted directly with suppliers to provide materials needed for a school construction project, including lockers, bleachers, marker boards, and even an art kiln, according to Forrester's own records (obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request).

Here's where things get tricky with the bathroom stalls. Instead of contracting directly with the Pennsylvania-based supplier of the school's "toilet partitions and compartments," Forrester and Department of General Services records show the $100,000 contract for that work instead went to another general contractor: Blue Skye Construction.

Blue Skye is a well-known local construction company that was very successful at landing city contracts when former Mayor Adrian Fenty was in office. In 2010, the city paid Blue Skye and a joint venture partner nearly $20 million directly for construction work. In 2009, Blue Skye and Donatelli Development were awarded the rights to development of the land next to the Minnesota Avenue Metro station. Blue Skye's president, Scottie Irving, was close to Fenty and cut an ad for his 2010 reelection campaign.

So why is a well-established contractor managing a piddling $100,000 bathroom stall contract? And does such a small contract even need another level of construction management?

Darrell Pressley, a spokesman for DGS, suggests that the Blue Skye contract is standard industry practice.

"In the instance of the toilet partitions, there are two independent activities that take place, which are the manufacturing/supply of materials and goods, and the installation of the product," Pressley writes to LL. "The toilet partitions were manufactured by a Pennsylvania company which supplies that product, but does not perform the installation. Toilet partitions are considered a specialty trade, in which this work is typically packaged with other similar work to a company who has the capacity to coordinate and install the work."

But there's a problem with this explanation: certified payroll records obtained through another FOIA show that the Pennsylvania-based supplier, Materials Distributors, actually managed its own installer, Atlantic Installations, which is based in Maryland. For more than a year, Materials Distributors sent Blue Skye copies of Atlantic Installations' payroll sheets, which LL obtained through another FOIA request, showing sporadic work being done by one carpenter who lives in Frederick, Md. The payroll sheets were accompanied with a note from Materials indicating that it was sending the payroll sheets of "our installer." (On its website, Material Distributors says it's "always at your service for every aspect of the job, from estimating to installation.")

Irving says Blue Skye tried to hire a Ward 8 contractor to install the partitions, but the contractor never showed up for the job. As for what Blue Skye was doing on the contract in the first place, Irving says he bid on the job because he was looking to train a new employee as a project manager on a smaller contract. He says his newly hired employee gained valuable experience managing the Anacostia toilet partition contract but that Blue Skye did not turn a profit. Irving says that even if Forrester could have contracted directly with the supplier for a lower cost, the city still benefited from having a local company involved.

"Yeah, the city is paying for me to give [the project manager] on-the-job training," Irving says, adding that if the District doesn't increase the capacity of District-based contractors, it's going to continue to lose more money in terms of tax revenue and construction jobs to out-of-state companies. "Either you're going to pay now, or you're going to pay later."

Though it's a fair point that the District needs to increase its local capacity of construction contractors, the question is whether opportunities for these kind of gigs are distributed fairly. Blue Skye was already well-established and successful when it won the Anacostia contract. If the city is going to pay extra to help a local contractor, wouldn't that money be better spent with a less-established contractor?

It's worth remembering that another contractor close to Fenty, Keith Lomax, also won a contract to manage a single drywall contractor. The drywaller says he was ordered by Forrester to contract through Lomax's company, which had zero interaction with the drywall crew. A DGS official has since said the agency found that Lomax's contract did not meet DGS' "standards" for subcontractors.

One other point: both Forrester and DGS records indicate that the entire $100,000 contract went to a local Certified Business Enterprise. Blue Skye is a CBE, but the Pennsylvania-based supplier and Maryland-based installer are not, indicating that the city may be overstating CBE participation on Anacostia project.

Photo by Darrow Montgomery

  • SJJ

    Thanks for this. How do we let everyone else know about it? How do we stop this sort of thing? Do we?

  • Drez

    Wow.

  • Slow burn

    Scottie Irving isn't smart enough to grow his business so it could stand alone on its own and compete against the Forresters of the world. No, Scottie has made a living being a pass through like Suderman points out for the larger companies to come in and use him as a pawn to meet minimum 35% participation requirements.

    Suderman - how about reporting on other things like drywall, electrical, flooring or painting where a CBE General Contractor is hired to manage those trades?

    DCPEP goes to contractors they know, who will work with CBE firms who will cooperate. If Blue Skye didn't cooperate, they would go out of business because they're not smart enough to win bids on their own. Just like Keystone Plus, Prince, and other CBE firms who do "favors" and get "made whole" on the next job where there are more than sufficient budgets to make it up.

    It's a joke. DGS tells us we're going to have a fair chance to win work..at least with DRES you had a chance.

  • whoknowsanymore

    Isn't this related to the school contract that approxiametly 10 million wasn't accounted for and alleged to have went to business partners/inlaws/who was on the d.c. payroll and on the payroll of the recipient of the 10 million at the same time Mr. Allen Lew had direct and a very suspicious hands on control of this major school modernization contract?...Which he skated free simply by saying he was cutting the systemic red tape. When I look at some of the straight thievery going on in DC that is plain to the most uneducated...I AM BECOMING A FAN OF RED TAPE

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  • Petworthian

    Just one example of many I'm sure. External auditor and special prosecutor is what we need. Too many public dollars being siphoned off by crooks

  • DGS is a Disgrace

    DGS makes me think of the old Duracell commercial. "They keep going and going".

    And no one seems to care. All the competent leadership rom DRES was swept out within 6 months of the start of DGS last October. What's left in leadership is the limp puppet, Director Hanlon, and a bunch of Lew cronies who have free reign to operate with impugnity. Laws are simply considered suggestions.

    At the end of the day, the City Council needs to decide whether they are content to allow Lew and DGS to run roughshod over all rules they are supposed to follow (if so why not repeal the rules) or if they want to give the laws some teeth and require DGS to follow them. It seems implicit in the Lew love-fest that the Council cares more about results than the illegal and immoral methods used to achieve those results.

  • Solrac

    This is one of the reasons I choose not to live in the district. Then, when I bring up these types of shenanigans to other district residents, I almost always hear a version of how these things happen everywhere. Ok, cool...not really my problem, until some under educated thug tries to mug me on my way to work.

  • NE John

    None of these wipes could install a bird feeder and yet they land these contracts as middlemen. Takers.

  • http://dynamic-home.co.uk Glasgow Bathroom

    So many bathroom managers for such a small project, hmmm makes you wonder where all of the public money goes sometimes.

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