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August 22, 2017

Lawsuit Against LPS Detailed


It’s a case of “he said versus he said.” Or a case of bids are not free.

IMG_4169The Luther School District was recently sued by Norman architectural firm, ARC Architecture, LLC, for unpaid alleged work related to getting bids to repair the problematic leaky roof on the Luther Auditorium.

The suit was filed in Oklahoma County District Court on April 29, 2016, more than a week before the last school board meeting on May 9, 2016. The board, as a whole, was not notified of the suit, The Luther Register has learned, until an email was sent to the five board members from Superintendent Sheldon Buxton on Tuesday, May 17, 2016.

In the suit, ARC claims it began making demands for payment of $17,751.32 beginning a year ago in May 2015, after ARC claims a contract was signed with the school district by Dr. Buxton on February 2, 2015, to perform $244,000 worth of work. Incidentally, the building was constructed not that long ago, but not under Dr. Buxton’s watch; and according to sources, warranties from the original contractor were not honored nor is the construction company still in business.

At a school board meeting on Feb. 15, 2016, Dr. Buxton told the board that he did not know they would be charged for ARC’s work and denied a contract had been signed.

From the 2/15/2016 board meeting, Dr. Buxton said: “The board will remember us doing business or at least discussing with them referencing the roofing needs of this auditorium. When I discussed this with ARC and they came to a couple of board meetings, there was never mention made that there would be a fee assessed to that unless we decided to go ahead and put the roof on the auditorium.  We were unable to do that.

So when John Buckley (of ARC) presented me with a bill for $17 thousand, I was pretty shocked by that.

I said, ‘John we need to talk about this. We never asked the board about this.’

So he and I have been arguing over this bill for a good long while.

…I  defer this to the board for your consideration and direction on how to proceed …

I certainly don’t intend to cheat ARC out of any labor bills if they were rightfully earned, however, in absence of anything other than collecting bids for this roof to determine what it might cost to fix it, it seems pretty excessive to me for $17,000  to be the bill for that unchartered repair …

My recommendation is we are not going to basically pay that bill until we see where the appropriations fall. Right now, as I explained to him, the appropriations for the school district would disallow us from paying that bill in the current state. For your information.”

Following Dr. Buxton’s comments, Board President Matt Mohr asked Dr. Buxton whether they had a contract with ARC, and Buxton replied they did not.

According to lawsuit, signed contract between Plaintiff ARC Architecture and Supt. Buxton.

According to lawsuit, signed contract between ARC Architecture and Supt. Buxton.

Then, Board Member Charles DeFuria asked whether there was an oral contract with ARC, and Dr. Buxton said “there was no understanding of that.”

Dr. Buxton also said, “at the time we were talking about moving forward into another bond issue, in which case if there were money left in the bond fund, then the board might consider to reroof this. We needed to know how much it would cost, so he (ARC) ran the bidding process. Out of that we were unable to recommend to the board to put the new roof on the auditorium. What I didn’t realize was the bill for that would be $17-thousand. ”

Voters rejected a bond proposal last fall.

However, in the lawsuit, ARC included a copy of the contract signed by Dr. Buxton that extensively stipulates its fee structure. The suit also included the $17,000 bill which was the alleged contracted amount of 7.29% of the total $244,000 ARC fee.

IMG_5060ARC claimed during the period it worked for LPS on the Auditorium Roof project it encumbered $3,500 for schematic design; $2,600 for design development; $7,100 for construction documents and also a $3,100 fee for State Fire Marshall Review, among other charges (included in the suit viewable here).

In the lawsuit, ARC also included Luther School Board minutes from a year ago, from Feb 2015, in which four of the five board members (Matt Mohr was absent) approved “ARC Architecture to present bids on the roofing issues of the Luther School.”

To view Dr. Buxton’s comments at the Feb. 15, 2016, board meeting regarding the ARC bill conundrum, click here. 

ARC is a company that says “it is our mission to design facilities in a manner where our work reflects the responsible use of public funds, retains public trust in our clients and serves the long-term needs for our clients.” The firm says it gets 80% of its business from educational facilities, and its website advertises its re-roofing jobs on schools all across the state. It also works on many other government related projects for towns and cities.

No doubt news of the lawsuit added to the pallor of a difficult year for Luther Public Schools, along with many Oklahoma School Districts, and its finances. In late April, the Luther School Board agreed to cut more than $700,000 to the budget, and in May, signed off on a shortened school year that is hoped to save another $150,000, to cope with revenue failures at the State Capitol and overspending by Luther schools leading up to the budget crisis.

The attorney representing ARC respectfully declined a request for an interview about the lawsuit.

 

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