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State Finds Faults During Pocantico Hills Audit

POCANTICO HILLS, N.Y. – The Pocantico Hills Central School District failed to follow proper procedures in renovation work and should take steps to minimize changes in capital projects, New York state Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli said in a audit released Thursday .

The audit examines Pocantico Hills' efforts to renovate its building and whether officials followed bidding procedures when making changes to the project through change orders.

“District of?cials needed to issue change orders that significantly increased the scope and cost of the initial contracts awarded through the bid process, and did not bid this additional work even though it exceeded the statutory dollar thresholds,” DiNapoli said.

Pocantico Hills originally awarded about $1.3 million in electrical work as part of the project, but DiNapoli's audit says the district used change orders that increased the cost of the project by 70 percent without the benefit of competitive bidding.

The school district says the work stemmed from needing to immediately replace damaged light fixtures after a windstorm in March 2010 and the same work was already being done by the contractor in the capital project.

Superintendent Valencia Douglas noted in a letter to the state comptroller's office that approval was sought from the state Education Department and the Pocantico Hills Board of Education before changing the electrical contract. She also noted that the change orders were discussed in public meetings.

DiNapoli says the change orders were not signed until several months after the windstorm, suggesting school officials may have had adequate time to solicit bids.

Douglas said in her letter that the delay was because it took several months to have professionals draw up design work. She also said the work done to replace lights was cheaper than two solicited quotes on the project, so there is no reason to think the change order cost taxpayers money.

DiNapoli also took issue with several change orders relating to a plumbing contract which increased the initial price by 45 percent, to $667,920, without competitive bidding. School officials told the state they did not seek competitive bids because the contractor was familiar with the project.

DiNapoli recommends in the audit that the district should make sure capital projects are properly planned to minimize the need for change orders, competitively bid changes that exceed guidelines and ensure vendors specify required services.

Douglas said in a letter that the district would review and added definitions to its change order policy.

“We recognize that, at times, there may be a gray area between when a public entity may proceed by change order as opposed to when additional work falls beyond the scope of that which should be addressed by change order,” she said.

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