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Buffalo School Board wants to hear from lawyers on payments for reconstruction project

The Buffalo School Board says it wants to hear from outside lawyers before deciding whether to support a resolution sponsored by board member Carl P. Paladino that would have the board take over all authority for making payments to LPCiminelli related to the 11-year, $1.3 billion reconstruction project.

Board minority bloc members said Wednesday that they are in the dark and confused about where things stand with the construction project. Though board members Paladino and Larry Quinn have represented the board at Joint Schools Construction Board meetings and in recent mediation talks, others complained they have received no written reports about the status of matters.

Quinn and board President James M. Sampson said they believe that it’s worthwhile to receive legal advice but that ultimately a decision should be made to have the district take over authority for construction project payments.

“We do need to put our flag in the sand here,” Quinn said. “We need to get this under control.”

Board minority bloc members questioned whether the role of the Harter Secrest & Emery law firm to represent both the Joint Schools Construction Board as well as the School Board represented a conflict of interest. Paladino argued that since the interests of the construction board and the School Board are the same, there is no conflict.

The minority bloc has also sought the opinion of the city’s corporation counsel, questioning the legality of the School Board taking over for the six-member construction board, which includes an even number of city and School Board representatives.

Mayor Byron W. Brown has indicated he would support the transfer of the authority from the Joint Schools Construction Board, for which he has served as the primary chairman, to the School Board if lawyers determine this is legally possible.

LPCiminelli has already indicated that it does not believe the authorizing legislation for the Joint Schools Construction Project permits such a transfer.

The board agreed to table Paladino’s resolution until the board’s lawyer can speak to the board and answer all questions and concerns.

“In principle, I want to do this,” Sampson said. “I just want to do this in the right way.”

The last four monthly meetings of the six-member Joint Schools Construction Board have been canceled because of the continuing stalemate, as well as board turnover. Recent mediation talks between LPCiminelli, the region’s largest construction contractor, and construction board representatives Paladino and Quinn have gone nowhere.

The award-winning, billion-dollar reconstruction project, largely bankrolled by the state, led to critical renovations and technology upgrades in the district’s aging schools. The repeated refusal, however, by Ciminelli to provide a more detailed summary of its actual costs, versus what it charged the district for the work, has raised concerns about excessive profits.

A total of $41 million for the project’s final phase has not been documented because they reflect internal figures that Ciminelli considers proprietary. That has led the construction board to hold off final payments of $3.1 million that would allow the company to finally close its books on the project.

Ciminelli contends that the company has met or exceeded every legal obligation of what it considers a fixed-price contract with the Joint Schools Construction Board.

For a summary of Wednesday’s board meeting, review live coverage on the School Zone blog at buffalonews.com/schoolzone email: stan@buffnews.com