Council approves Kinch resolution on Torrado contract

Council approves Kinch resolution on Torrado contract

Tonight is first forum on $83 million bond

CUMBERLAND – No company should be able to submit a low bid on services only to change the terms and keep bumping up the value of the contract later, says Councilor Mike Kinch.

The Town Council last week passed Kinch’s resolution requesting that the General Assembly require that state-mandated procurement procedures be followed in the event of a significant increase to a contract, with a cap on change orders.

At issue here, says Kinch, is that the Cumberland School Committee previously approved a change to an existing contract with Torrado Architects that will likely mean more than $4 million in fee increases for the firm over five years of school construction projects without the benefit of a competitive bidding process.

Case law appears to allow the practice of significantly changing contracts by using change orders and avoiding competitive bidding, said Kinch, allowing money to keep “going and going and going.”

In his research on Torrado’s history with Cumberland schools, Kinch said the original amount the company received based on a master price agreement in 2015 was $400,000 on a $5 million contract. That was later bumped up by $135,000 more and then another $10,000, all by council resolution, but he learned that there would really be no limit on the number of times the amount could be increased.

It seems everyone now agrees that $4 million is a “substantial jump” from $145,000, Kinch said.

Though the Torrado matter seems to be decided, Kinch said he wanted to feel comfortable that processes are going to be properly followed going forward as the school construction bills come before the council. The correct way to start this project, he said, would have been to not have this cloud over it.

The first of two public forums held by a committee planning upgrades to local schools is tonight, Sept. 12, starting at 7:30 p.m. in the Cumberland High School auditorium. The second is Sept. 19, starting at 7 p.m. in the CHS transitional building cafeteria.

On Sept. 4, Mayor Jeff Mutter updated the council on the Torrado matter, telling members that a public school renovation building committee approved the contract with Torrado on Aug. 20. There were obvious concerns with the contract, he noted, but town attorneys ultimately decided that the contract was legal and the board voted to move forward with it.

Kinch said he doesn’t believe anything nefarious happened here, and he has no reason to believe Torrado wouldn’t have ended up as the lowest bidder under a standard bidding process, but taxpayers need to know that this process meets a certain standard and officials are watching their dollars.

“I think the taxpayer expects a little better than that,” he said of what happened previously.

He said School Committee Chairman Paul DiModica has assured him that the process will be tightened up going forward.

“Did we get the best deal? Most likely,” Kinch told his colleagues. “Do we know for sure? No, we don’t, because it wasn’t re-bid.”

Mutter also said he doesn’t believe there was any malice involved, saying he said there was simply a rush to get the school improvements on the ballot last fall. Everyone seemed to be on board with going after “once-in-a-generation-type” reimbursement funding, he said. It’s often advisable to take something a bit slower to make sure it’s right, he said.

It was Mutter who originally raised the question of whether a 2018 contract extension with Torrado that will pay the company millions more without a bidding process was a binding one. He subsequently received legal opinions that the contract was binding, so breaking it would likely lead to legal action.

Mutter told the council that things got a little gray when the School Committee last year amended the contract to include various items. It was Torrado’s argument that one of those items covered all work being done within the $83 million bond, he said. There was some debate over whether that clause in the contract was legally enforceable, he said, and there’s no doubt it should have been clearer. The architectural firm is pointing to the last paragraph of an amendment adding $10,000 for a demographic study, he said.

Mutter assured Kinch and the council that no one on the building committee was euphoric about moving forward with Torrado based on the process that was followed.

Comments

When the thought of doing the $83 million dollars of work came up in May 2018 many Cumberland politicians were all in the room and not one person ever brought up the fact that the school department needed to go out to bid again.

The Torrado Architects were hired in 2015 to work on Stage 1 and Stage 2 work that was submitted to RIDE. They were the architects who managed all the summer work for the last few years that the school department had been doing at the middle schools and the elementary schools. Such as asbestos removal, ADA bathroom remodeling, new unit ventilators at both middle schools and a lot more.

Torrado was on board ready to do manage additional summer work when Senator Pearson contacted both the town and school department about Governor Raimondo's proposal to do millions of dollars of work to schools through out the state. The project shifted.

Senator Pearson had town officials get together and come up with a plan to get our share of the state money. We were urged to be one of the first communities to seek the money so we were not short changed with the bulk going to larger cities.

In May, 2018 the following politicians were in the room and NOBODY questioned if Torrado Architects had a contract.

The school committee was told that the cost to do all the work for the $83 million dollar bond proposal to RIDE was going to cost $135,000. Everyone in the room knew that.

Present: Paul DiModica, Mark Fiorillo, Steve Hess, Ray Salvatore, Supt. Mitchell, Alex Prignano, Sodexo Will Dejesus, Mike Chandler

Also Present: Town Councilors, Bob Shaw, Tom Kane, Jim Metivier, Lisa Beaulieu, State Senator Ryan Pierson and State Representative Jim McLaughlin

Another meeting was held with Torrado four days later and again nobody said wait a minute. We were urging Torrado to get the job done so it could be submitted to RIDE and the town council for approval for the November ballot.

Present: Lisa Beaulieu, Bill Dennen, Justin Martin, Ray Salvatore, Bob Mitchell, Ryan Pierson, Mike Chandler, Kelly Morris, Louis Terrado, Mayor Murray, Alex Prignano, Will Dejesus and Paul DiModica

With all these politicians and the then town council attorney, nobody said a word.

Torrado was already on board and the scope of work changed to the $83 million dollar bond.

Countless hours were put in going over previous stage 1 and 2 design work and the state's Jacob Report to break out realistic cost and this is how we came up with the $83 million.

The $10,000 change order was due to RIDE making it a requirement that a demographic study be done before going back to RIDE. The company that did the study was recommend to us by RIDE.

RIDE has worked with this company before. Torrado was also required to hire a company and do an two day program for the community to identify our needs. That fee came out of Torrado's fee.

I was in the room when Torrado was asked if he had a valid contract and the talk was to have the $10,000 be run through Torrado as an reimbursement. Torrado agreed to do this without the usual 10% markup. A town official was in the room when this happened. There was nothing GRAY here as Mayor Mutter says in the article.

I personally feel that the school department was left out to hang here with the Torrado contract. Nobody questioned the work they were doing for the school district when it should have been questioned.

Torrado Architects are well qualified to take on this work. They have been associated with the Cumberland School District for over 25 years. Well regarded in the state for their professionalism. There is probably not a school district in the state that has not used them.

The work that Governor Raimondo pointed out last year when the Pawtucket Public Schools opened newly remodeled elementary schools that Torrado was the architect and Colliers International was the project managers.

Both companies have been approved to do the work in Cumberland for the $83 million dollar bond.

This message is my personal message and has not been endorsed by the the school department or school committee. It comes from notes that I took from these meetings.

Paul DiModica
Cumberland School Committee

It is clear what you are trying to get across. You want this personal statement to become a fact/position.

Just have to ask...did anyone in the room state that ANY rules/laws have to be followed?

And if not, does that mean the school committee can just not follow them?

As I learned, it ain't as easy as some of you think serving in Elected Office...especially a Time Demanding Part Time Office!

1st - While I have banged heads with Paul a few times in the past, our going back to 2000, and our both on CHS 2010, I have to say that Paul is, as am I even though there are many that don't believe that, a very caring and concerned individual when it comes to School Issues here in Cumberland. For Cripes Sake, he has given 20-years of his life and untold hours!!!

Serving in Part Time Elected Office, whether compensated or not, is VOLUNTEERISM Personified. And, you learn as you go...often relying on the advice of others. Those others often being the Town's Full Time Employees whose job it is to investigate these kinds of things and provide correct advice.

Can something like this, with the highly complex and convoluted laws and guidelines we have allow for something like this to happen???

YUP...and I commend Paul for his copious note taking and providing us with the explanation he just did.

#2 - I think "Can't we all get along" and his comment above, for all intents and purposes, especially as Paul went out of his way to honestly explain what took place...is inappropriate and uncalled for.

Tom Letourneau