Firm received more than $800k since `13 from college

| 06 Aug 2014 | 12:46

    By Nathan Mayberg
    — Last year, Sussex Community College approved more than $600,000 worth of contracts with CP Engineers and Architecture to work on the college's master plan, oversee renovations on the student center and work on a capital maintenance project.

    So far this year, the engineering firm is in line for more than $200,000 more while the $2.88 million student center project the company has been involved in, has been put on hold with the bid process for the work under review. Only one company, Echelon Services of Newton, bid on the project, at an amount about $270,000 more than the engineering firm's estimate. A report on the bid process by Saiber law partners of Florham Park, is due back to the college by the end of the month, college Executive Vice President of Finance and Operations Frank Nocella said.

    CP Engineers had originally estimated the project's cost to be $2 million but then increased the estimated cost to $2.6 million this year after identifying more work. The renovations include replacement of the air conditioning system, window replacements and steel beam work.

    The engineering firm had been employing the consulting services of former college trustee Glen Vetrano, who resigned last month while disclosing that he had been working for the firm since 2012. The firm also retains college board chairman Glen Gavan as its attorney.

    Vetrano signed off on the resolultion increasing the cost estimate on April 28 as board secretary.

    On April 11 and April 16, the engineering company wrote a letter to Nocella in which managing partner Stanley Puszcz identified new work needed for the student center's wall beams and corner columns totaling an additional $415,000. The beams needed reinforcing, there were cracks in the facade and a crack had been identified near one of the steel beams of the student center, Puszcz wrote.

    As a result, the professional fees of the firm would need to go up from $304,000 to $357,400, he wrote.

    In addition, Puszcz said the company would need to "increase our staffing level during construction to monitor the multiple crews that will be working on the project."

    That would add on another $93,800 to the engineering firm's contract, bringing their total contract to $451,200 for managing the student center project. That is an increase of $147,200 over the original proposal in 2013.

    In the letter, Puszcz said the staffing increase was "not typical" but needed in order to "perform the independent inspections to confirm the work so as to enable progress and keep the project on schedule."

    Puszcz also wrote that the "tight construction of masonry and brick around the columns are providing the necessary lateral restraint along the length of the columns which is transferred to the wall."

    In addition, he wrote that "the quality and integrity of the brick facade and masonry wall are sound."

    Puszcz also said in the letter that "in an effort to obtain the most advantageous construction cost pricing, we will ensure that this project is listed with the various bidding services utilized by contractors and that the contracting industry is aware of this opportunity."

    Puszcz could not be reached for comment.

    Nocella said that the project was advertised in newspapers and trade magazines. At least eight construction firms expressed an interest and several had interviews with school officials Only Echelon Services made a bid. Nocella said he couldn't speculate on the reasons, but expected the review by Saber to shed some more light on the process.

    Nocella said the student center was "in much need of repair." The windows are "in bad working condition," not energy efficient and there is no central air conditioning in the center, he said.

    Last year, the college contracted with CP Engineers for a $179,670 capital maintenance project. Nocella said that contract was for the firm to identify and plan for future construction projects at the college's eight buildings. "There hasn't been a systematic way" of doing so, he said.

    While the college has been busy with construction plans, Nocella blamed declining enrollment as the reason that six positions were cut at the college this year. Nocella said they involved directors and department heads.

    Financially, Nocella said the college is "in a much better place than it was four years ago."