This story has been edited for a correction.
Government contractor Robbie Ferris is refusing to turn over documents showing Horry County Schools and taxpayers how he’s spending part of his $220 million contract to build five new energy-positive schools.
Now school attorneys are getting involved to determine what action to take next.
Since this involves legal and contractual matters, further conversations will be held with the school board and attorneys in order to determine next steps.
Teal Britton, Horry County Schools spokeswoman
“The communication between Horry County Schools and Robbie Ferris show a clear difference of opinion between the school district administration and the design-build contractor regarding the terms of the signed contract as it relates to openness and accessibility of pertinent information related to the building of our new schools,” said district spokeswoman Teal Britton in a statement.
In March, The Sun News sent a Freedom of Information Act request to the school district asking for documents pertaining to the March 2016 asbestos abatement at the Myrtle Beach Family Learning Center, which had to be demolished before work could start on the new Myrtle Beach Middle School.
As stated in the contract, ‘full and detailed records and accounts related to the cost of the work’ including subcontracts, are to be kept by FirstFloor and made available to the district.
Rick Maxey, Horry County Schools superintendent
District Superintendent Rick Maxey sent a letter to Ferris on April 7 asking for the documents, citing Horry County Schools’ contract with First Floor Energy.
“As stated in the contract, ‘full and detailed records and accounts related to the cost of the work’ including subcontracts, are to be kept by FirstFloor and made available to the district,” said Maxey in the letter. “I trust that you understand the district’s responsibility and position to adhere to state law as it pertains to FOIA.”
Ferris disagreed and said in an email that he doesn’t believe it’s his responsibility to maintain records associated with the cost of the work, and that he does not believe that he’s required to make them available to the district.
I thought they were public. If they’re not public, why aren’t they public?
School board Chairman Joe DeFeo on subcontracts
“The plain contractual language does not obligate FirstFloor to obtain or maintain copies of contracts between its subcontractors and their subcontractors or the contracts of subcontractors and third or fourth-tier parties,” Ferris wrote in response.
According to an email sent by Chief Accountability Officer Edward Boyd to Ferris, the records would be public if they were in possession of the district.
“I thought they were public,” said school board chair Joe DeFeo.
But DeFeo may soon get a say in the matter.
“Since this involves legal and contractual matters, further conversations will be held with the school board and attorneys in order to determine next steps,” said Britton.
How did we get here?
On Sept. 11, 2014, the district issued a Request for Qualifications to companies that could bid for three new schools and one replacement school after paying environmental service firm Cardno TEC $875,000 for a district-wide needs assessment.
On Oct. 20, 2014, DeFeo introduced Ferris, who pitched to the board his idea for five energy-positive schools that would produce 40 percent more energy than they consumed.
On Nov. 10, 2014, the board voted to scrap the first Request for Qualifications, and a new request for energy-positive schools was issued Feb. 26, 2015.
The new request required three new schools and two replacement schools: a new intermediate school for the St. James area, a new middle school for the Carolina Forest area, a replacement middle school for the Myrtle Beach area, a new middle school for the Socastee area and a replacement elementary school for the Socastee area.
The request specified that “energy positive” meant the schools produce more energy than they use, and that the schools are “high performance,” meaning “a building that integrates and optimizes on a life cycle basis all major high-performance attributes, including energy conservation, environment, safety, security, durability, accessibility, cost-benefit, productivity, sustainability, functionality and operational considerations.”
The school district narrowed down the responses to several firms, including First Floor Energy, LLC, and asked the firms to submit their proposals.
The board then spent $40,000 on Greenville-area consultant Louis Batson, who awarded each bidder a point value based upon schedule, energy-positive design and several other criteria. First Floor Energy was awarded the least amount of points.
But a 10-member selection committee made up of five board members chose First Floor Energy, and the board voted to approve the contract for $220 million, going $53 million over the budget. An additional $20 million of contingency funds upped the budget to $240 million.
At the time of the vote, some board members expressed their belief that First Floor Energy was the only company who could deliver five energy-positive schools, and deliver them on time. Now, two of the schools will not be ready at the beginning of the 2017-18 school year.
Christian Boschult, 843-626-0218, @TSN_Christian
Correction: A story that appeared on Page 1A in the April 12 edition of The Sun News contained incorrect information about Southern Asset Maintenance, owned by Jody Prince and Rep. Kevin Hardee, which worked on the March 2016 asbestos abatement at the Myrtle Beach Family Learning Center. Southern Asset Maintenance, Prince and Hardee were not involved in the bidding process. Southern Asset Maintenance was hired by a subcontractor of a subcontractor of the successful bidder. Southern Asset Maintenance was not hired by any of the companies named in the April 12 story. The Sun News regrets the error and any incorrect implication that the article may have had.