Horry County Schools Building Projects

By Paul Gable

The Horry County Schools Selection Committee will meet tomorrow to decide on what firm or firms it will recommend for each of five new school projects.

Three teams, Thompson Turner Construction, First Floor Energy Positive and M.B. Kahn Construction Company, were invited to make offers on at least two projects to all five of the projects, at their discretion.

After several months of review and consideration of the proposals submitted, the committee will recommend one offering team proposal for each of the five building projects being considered.

Interviews with the teams will be held tomorrow with the committee tentatively scheduled to present its recommendations to the full Horry County Schools Board of Education at its October 12, 2015 workshop for an up or down vote on the recommendations.

If the board votes to approve the list as submitted, final negotiations with the winning offering team for each project will begin.

The proposals submitted are for design-build delivery of each of five planned new school facilities. The overall projected total cost of the five new facilities is $150-200 million.

According to sources familiar with the process, each proposal offered on a building project contains such things as building design, materials to be used and an estimated price.

After negotiations, the final price could differ from the estimated price offered on the proposals. It is this last part of the process that always concerns me with government building projects.

If a private business wants to build a new facility and that facility ends up costing considerably more than first budgeted, profits, dividends and the like can be affected.

If a public building project ends up costing considerably more than first estimated, it’s the taxpayer who bears the cost.

I have written two articles recently where I described the experience of Horry County government with two building projects beginning at one price and ending at quite a higher final price.  Those projects are the Horry County Government and Justice Center and the Myrtle Beach International Airport new passenger terminal.

M.B. Kahn Construction Co., a firm heading one of the three offering teams for the new school facilities, was significantly involved in each of these two projects.

Included in the M.B. Kahn team for the school facilities projects is UWPD Architecture. According to the S.C. Secretary of State’s website, the business changed its name from Usry Wolfe Peterson Doyle Architecture Inc. to UWPD Architecture in October 2014. The business location remains at 4610 Oleander Drive, Myrtle Beach, SC.

Mark Wolfe, the executive director of facilities for Horry County Schools, spent 23 years as vice president of Usry Wolfe Peterson Doyle Architecture Inc. according to a media report in “The Island Packet” dated March 28, 2015. According to the report, which took the information from Wolfe’s LinkedIn page, Wolfe left the firm in January 2014 to take a position with Horry County Schools.

As executive director of facilities for Horry County Schools, Wolfe was included as a member of the Horry County Schools Selection Committee.

Wolfe and the other members of the Selection Committee were required to sign several confidentiality documents. Among these is the Procurement Integrity Representations and Restrictions document. UWPD Architecture is one of the firms listed in the Designer, Sub-contractor/sub-consultant section of that document.

By signing the document, Wolfe affirmed he had no conflict of interest regarding the procurement process for the five projects.

The document reads in part, “In determining whether any conflict of interest exists, I have considered all of the following factors that might place me in a position of conflict, actual or apparent, with my official responsibilities regarding this procurement: (a) my relationship with all offerors, including their named subcontractors, (b) my stocks, bonds, and other financial interests or commitments; (c) my employment and business arrangements (past, present and under consideration); and (d) to the extent known by me, the financial arrangements of my family…”

I believe Wolfe signed the document in good faith and there is nothing, according to state law, either illegal or unethical about him serving on the committee.

However, having spent 23 years with one of the firms involved in the procurement process, I don’t believe Wolfe should have been included on the Selection Committee.

It is unfair to put him in a position where perception often overrules reality in the public domain, especially with hundreds of millions of public dollars involved.


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