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Falls School Board awards contracts with virtually no public discussion

NIAGARA FALLS – The city School Board awarded $27.8 million in contracts as part of its districtwide capital improvement project after a closed-door session of nearly two hours Thursday night.

The board separately approved five contracts but engaged in virtually no discussion about the contracts while in open session.

Superintendent Cynthia Bianco thanked the board for its votes on contracts for the project, adding she “can’t wait to see it come to fruition.”

The entire project, dubbed “Inventing Tomorrow,” is a $67 million proposal including new athletic fields, as well as repairs, renovations, improvements to security, increased energy efficiency and Americans with Disabilities Act compliance at district buildings.

The firms awarded contracts were:

General construction: Rodems Construction of Orchard Park, $13 million

Plumbing: John W. Danforth Co. of Tonawanda, $897,000

Mechanical/HVAC: Quackenbush Co. of Buffalo, $6.4 million

Electrical work: Ferguson Electric of Buffalo, $7 million

Site development: Mark Cerrone Inc. of Niagara Falls, $469,000

Further details about non-winning bids placed were not immediately available after Thursday night’s meeting.

The only “no” vote cast on the contracts was from board member Johnny Destino, who voted against the general construction award to Rodems Construction because he wanted to award it to a Niagara County firm.

The two lowest bids for that contract were very close, and the board could have done more due diligence before awarding the contract, Destino said.

School district attorney Angelo Massaro said that while officials would always prefer local firms to get the work, the district already has a project labor agreement in place that will guarantee a 2-to-1 ratio of union workers to non-union workers.

Before entering the closed-door session, known as executive session, the board did not specifically disclose the reasons the session had to be private. Earlier in the meeting, Bianco said there would be discussions of contractual and personnel matters.

When asked why there was virtually no discussion about the contracts in public before they were awarded, Destino said there was “potential for litigation” with one of the contract awards. He declined to elaborate.

Massaro said he believes the closed-door session was appropriate because it is allowed when a public body’s discussion will lead to the appointment or selection of an individual contractor.

Deputy Schools Superintendent Mark Laurrie told the board the district got final approval on the phase of work covered in these contracts from the state Education Commissioner’s office on May 31.

Laurrie said the district has also received verbal approval from the four state entities it needed in order to raise the district’s debt limit, which was approved by voters in September.

The district also received approval from the New York Power Authority for the construction work on the athletic fields that will take place above the water conduits that run from the Niagara River to the authority’s Lewiston plant.

Later this month, the board will be asked to approve the sale of a bond anticipation note of $45.5 million to cover some of the costs. That sale is expected to occur in early July, said Timothy Hyland, administrator for school business services.