Readers Write: Raising red flag on PW’s shoddy school window work

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I have had a chance to review some of the details for one of the projects from our $70 million construction bond for the Port Washington school district. In particular, I reviewed just the part dealing with refurbishing the projected windows.

The bond was supposed to include replacing the windows. The decision was made (the right one) that it would be much more cost-effective if the windows were refurbished at a savings of several million dollars. The first question is where is the money that was saved? Was it spent elsewhere?

Almost all public construction projects are normally listed with several services that contractors use to find out about jobs that are out for bid such as Dodge Reports etc. This project was not listed even though the district claimed it was. All other projects from our district were listed, but this was conveniently left off. No surprise that only one window contractor picked up the bid document and the district received only one bid.

In my 50 years of public contracting, it is normal for an agency not to accept the bid if there is only one bidder. They usually give it out to bid again and get a lower price. More bidders usually means a lower price. If a sole bid is accepted, the agency usually makes the contractor go through hoops to justify it and is used on small projects with special circumstances and is rare. There is usually a delay while the agency investigates why there was only one bid and whether it is cost-effective to rebid it. Our school board rushed to award the project within days. The bid price was approximately $2 million. My professional estimate is the project should have been done for about $500,000.

After some prodding, the district finally gave me the plans and specifications for this $2 million project. Our district was already called out by the New York state commissioner of education as giving the architect a sweetheart contract and paying him as much as $1.5 million more than the going rate. Between the architect and construction manager, they are probably getting north of an $8 million fee for this $79 million construction bond with change orders etc.

Let’s look at the window refurbishment for the projected windows.

It asked for replacing of all the hinges with Magnum series 4000 hinges made by Window Repair Systems. This is a good hinge, but the manufacturer is not Window Repair Systems. Window Repair systems is a contractor, so making one contractor get the price from another contractor is not what I’d expect from our $8 million men and I question if this is some sort of bid rigging. The Magnum series is an all-metal hinge that would last for a long time. When I looked at the windows that were refurbished, the contractor used a hinge with plastic parts and which I believe is imported. The plastic parts failed previously on the hinges and that is the reason they must be replaced.

Another component that had to be refurbished are the handles. Again the specifications were written specifying Window Repair Systems, which is not the manufacturer. Our $8 million men, it seems, didn’t think they should tell the contractor the amount or location of which handles to be changed. In fact, they left this up to the contractor. Does anybody else buy something and tell the vendor to ship any quantity they want? This from our $8 million men. When I looked at the completed project I looked at about 10 windows. Nine had broken handles and only one had the handle changed.

The weatherstripping was all supposed to be changed to “Fin Seal” type. “Fin Seal” is not appropriate for projected windows. In fact, the contractor didn’t use Fin Seal but a vinyl or rubber extrusion which might be better but he used the lowest quality he could find. I don’t know any contractors who use this type without a hard back so it won’t come out easily. One window I opened showed the weatherstripping falling out already.

If you look at the windows, you will see many pieces of insulated glass that has failed, which would have been easy and cost-effective to change at the time. They were not touched. Our consultants missed this?

The thermal break (the part between the inside and outside of the window) is for the most part failing and could have easily been addressed when this work was done. It was not. Our consultants missed this as well.

I question whether our $8 million men even wrote these specifications or if whoever did even looked at the school first.

When we do a project of this nature usually field testing is a requirement to see if the windows are actually refurbished to an acceptable standard. It is hard to believe that our highly paid “expert” consultants never asked for field testing. My opinion is they will not pass.

I can go on and on, but it’s obvious this project was not done the best way or cost-effectively. If the rest of the bond is done like this, I’d say the district is losing out on $20-$30 million. Instead of blaming state mandates, what about keeping your own house clean and efficient? Six of the schools were done at the same time with the same windows that all need refurbishment. Is this what we should expect?

Our district is one of the few in its class with no elementary foreign language program. Wonder why we can’t afford it?

Maybe it’s time for some board members to step down and let someone prepared to do the proper oversight take their place. Who on the board will stand up to our $8 million men and make them pay the district back?

Richard Sussman

Prior President

Port Washington Union Free School District Board.

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