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Nazareth, Pa., United States

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Feds Still Have Questions About Cedar Beach Pool

Six Allentown City employees will be re-interviewed by the FBI in the next week or so concerning the long-delayed reconstruction of Cedar Beach pool. What's going on? I'll tell you what I've learned.

Fleck and Spillman-Farmer.

Spillman-Farmer is a very well regarded architectural firm based in Bethlehem. Though it does business development, it was getting none of the action in all of the shiny new buildings going up in Allentown. It was around that time that a very positive Morning Call story about political and business consultant Mike Fleck appeared. He was portrayed as a one-stop shop.Ifyou wanted to get elected, you give him money. If you wanted to do business in Allentown, you hire him as a consultant.

That's what Spillman-Farmer did. This is a firm that makes no political contributions. But faster than you can say "Wiretap!" Spillman-Farmer has a $149,500 with Allentown to do the design work for all of the city's pools. This firm had just finished Nazareth's pool, under budget and ahead of schedule, with no change orders. Though Nazareth Public Works Director Bob Reimer gave Spillman a bad recommendation, that's how Nazareth rolls. There is some suspicion that the RFP was rigged by Fleck in favor of Spillman, but this firm clearly had the best of three proposals.

In the course of preparing its new design, the old plans, dated January 1951, were reviewed.They showed a pool shell with between 3 1/2" and 5 1/2" of concrete.

MidAtlantic hired as General Contractor.

Despite having no experience in pool construction, MidAtlantic was the low bidder for construction at Cedar Beach and Mack pools for the princely sum of $1,872,465.93.

Did MidAtlantic lowball its bid?

All I can tell you is that MidAtlantic also was awarded the contract to do $130,000 in renovations at Whitehall's Parkview Pool, which ended up costing $337,875 last year. Mayor Ed Hozza considered himself lucky to get away at that price.

MidAtlantic was required to obtain the necessary permits for the job, but started work without doing so.

When it finally began construction in Spring 2016, it cracked the pool shell in the course of doing its demo work. Although this appears to be MidAtlantic's fault, it blamed who ever installed the shell in the '50s.  

Pennoni Engineering, which is hired by the City precisely to review these kinds of matters, concluded that the pool thickness was between 5.5-6". Spillman Farmer was willing to resolve this with a $48,000 change order that would increase the cost of the contract slightly, but strengthen the shell beyond what was built.

Frank Clark, Senior Engineer.  

By this time, MidAtlantic was trying to squeeze Spillman-Farmer out of the deal. Frank Clark and Keystone Consulting, who were already working for MidAtlantic, were ready to step in. In fact, they are the team that did the Whiitehall pool at nearly three times the original estimate. But I doubt they dared dream what Fed Ed would do next.

On July 7, exercising his emergency purchases power, Mayor Edwin "Fed Ed" Pawlowski hired Keystone Consulting Engineers (Frank Clark) as an independent intermediary between Spillman-Farmer and MidAtlantic, even though it was already being paid by MidAtlantic and is hardly independent.. Now it could collect money from the City, too.

In his memo, Fed Ed offers a very strange justification:

"Keystone Consulting Engineers (KCE) of Wescoesville was engaged by Whitehall Township for their recent pool renovation,and is a very well respected engineering firm in the Lehigh Valley. Frank Clark, the Senior Engineer at KCE, is currently the appointed engineer for Whitehall Township.He has been working with MidAtlantic on their Parkview Pool renovation. He was not familiar with MidAtlantic prior to Whitehall's project, but has been able to develop a respectful relationship with the firm's owner, Joe Ramirez.".

While most of us would run from a duo that jacks up a bid on a public project, Fed Ed embraced them. He calls Clark a senior engineer, a term that Clark also uses on LinkedIn. Clark does have a degree in civil engineering, but has no certification as a Professional Engineer. Using him for engineering work on a public project is like using a biology major to remove your appendix.

Far from being an intermediary or an independent, Clark worked with MidAtlantic while keeping Spillman-Farmer in the dark. Three separate requests for meetings with City officials went unanswered.

Contract Goes From $1.87MM to $2.55MM  

While cutting Spillman-Farmer out of the loop, Clark and MidAtlantic concocted $681,945.48 in change orders that would increase the MidAtlantic contract to $2.55 million. They claimed that the pool shell was below the thickness it should be, despite evidence to the contrary from the City's own engineer.

Amazingly, part of this change order - $76,000 worth - involves the removal of a structural wall around the pool's perimeter, designed in the '50s precisely because the pool is in a flood plain. Now there is nothing, but the deck "sits cleanly," whatever the hell that means.  

Another change order adds a whopping $270,000 for steel rebar, even though that is part of the original contract.

These change orders were reviewed by City Council on December 21. Controller Jeff Glazier claimed he did a "serious walk through" with Clark. "I believe it's justified because we're going to get a pool out of this that will last a long time," he reasoned. He claimed this is just one of the "unsung things that the Controller does."

Julio Guridy was a tad more skeptical than the City Controller. "It is not unusual to do a change order, but it is unusual to be so high,." he said, and decided to abstain from voting.

With a gun to their head, and worried that Cedar Beach Pool may never open at all, the rest of City Council approved the change orders. Even as they did so, Clark warned them, "I know you are going to see other change orders."

50 comments:

Anonymous said...

And people wonder why "Fed Ed" hasn't been indicted yet. His actions go very deep and the FBI are still digging. Look for sweeping indictments in late May or early June. Maybe his blind supporters want to send him more campaign cash for his legal defense.

Anonymous said...

So who is MidAtlantic?

Robert Trotner said...

Just another in the long line of racketeer Fed End's driveby muggings of the people of Allentown. His so-called campaign's slogan, "Commitment, Experience, Results," reveals more about his proclivity for the obscenely corrupt than he realizes. Anyone who gives to his campaign and doesn't know where the money is going is just dense.

Anonymous said...

Good Article, Bernie.

Prior to being awarded Cedar Beach Midatlantic only completed one swimming pool project of this scale. It was for Springfield Township, NJ. The bidding documents for Cedar Pool required 5 similar projects completed to take on a job of this magnitude. The City waived this requirement. Not sure why. The Springfield, NJ project went the same exact way

A lot of arguing and fighting until Midatlantic had the Township kick the Engineer off the Job. Much like Allentown the Township just wanted their pool. It is almost the exact same story. This way there is no one looking over their back. You know...checks and balances.

So sad to see the City buy into this and for council to have received such bad advise.

Anonymous said...

In March of 2016, Frank Clark was working for Midatlantic on Cedar Beach but yet providing oversight to Midatlantic work on a Whitehall project which ended up triple the original costs. Hugh? Then in July the city hires Frank Clark as an "independent" mediater between Architect and the very contractor he is collecting money from? So now Frank Clark is being paid by the City and is also still being paid by Midatlantic to perform work? Very sad situation.

Anonymous said...

Is Keystone Consulting Engineers involved in the investigation too? That's hard to follow. It's kind of hard to believe that KCE simply arrives on the scene because they are Whitehall Township's engineer and happened to have a pool. Hozza and Ed can't stand each other. I just don't see one Ed calling the other Ed and offering assistance.

Doesn't the City have a staff engineer?

Why didn't anyone question why the City hired an architect for a pool project?

Bernie O'Hare said...

KCE was on this job initially for MidAtlantic. Fed Ed has no say over that Then, MidAtlantic wanted KCE appointed as the "independent" intermediary even though there was nothing independent about KCE. .

Bernie O'Hare said...

8:00am, MidAtlantic is from trenton NJ and is the General Contractor. It os owned by Joe Ramirez. It makes no political contributions. I wonder why the Ciry waived the requirement that MidAtlantic have done five pools.

Bernie O'Hare said...

"Doesn't the City have a staff engineer?"

The City has staff engineers and also had a deal with Pennoni Engineering for reviews throughout out the city.In fact, Pennoni investigated when MidAtlantic claimed the shell was too thin. It found the shell was built 5" thick. It was only cracked in one spot at that time (Febr. 2016), so the assertion about the shell being inadequate seems to be off. It is thought that the shell was cracked by MidAtlantic during demo. Though Spillman-Farmer was not thrilled about the fix, it was willing to go along with a $48,000 change order bc it improved the integrity of the shell.

Bernie O'Hare said...

"Look for sweeping indictments in late May or early June.Z"

Let's hope it's sooner than that. I'd hate to see the people of Allentown vote in a primary without an indictment. The Grand Jury ends in March. Although this matter can be transferred to a new Grand Jury, the Feds have to be cognizant that their investigation paralyzes the city and makes everything suspect.

Personally, I see no evidence of criminality here. I see a contractor who probably low-balled this bid and now is jacking up his price, which is exactly what happened in Whitehall. What may have drawn the feds is MidAtlantic's complaint about the bath house and the failure to obtain a FEMA permit for work in the flood zone. I don't know.

Anonymous said...

I'm constantly amazed by the corruption and lack of competence in Allentown. I'd love to see how Hanover Township, NC would handle a job like this. No doubt it would be done professionally, under budget, ahead of schedule and handled by an engineer with a P.E. license. Again I find myself wishing the Allentown could hire a real, competent, properly qualified professional manager (with no politics!) and have a part time Mayor with a small token salary who would perform mostly ceremonial functions.

Anonymous said...

Mr. Clarks false statements to council on December 12 are troubling and very contradicting. These same statements were also quoted in the morning call.

Anonymous said...

Some questions to add: While SF may be "...very well regarded...", what experience do/did they have with pools? Why did they subcontract the work to a pool architect? Did the pool architect have a PE on staff? How come the PE stampings on the plans are from an electrical engineer?
Engineering firms utilize unlicensed people all the time to work for them. You make this guy Clark sound like a fly-by-night ripoff artist. Almost sounds like someone has an axe to grind? Oh, wait, never mind......

Bernie O'Hare said...

I am certainly no expert but know that Spillman Farmer has extensive experience with swimming pools. It has done the pool in Nazareth I mentioned and also has done swimming pools in Easton and Bethlehem. The use of Wade was likely for their additional expertise. And of course Spillman has Professional Engineers. As for Clark, I am pointing out that he is essentially unqualified for a project of this magnitude. He was referred to as a Senior Engineer, but is no PE. That's just the way it is. He is associated with another pool project using the same contractor that was nearly 3x over budget. He is well on the way to replicating that here. And he has a conflict of interest. He is being paid by Allentown and by MidAtlantic. I certainly never portrayed him as "fly by night," but I do think he is unqualified and that Pawklowski should never have employed him.

Anonymous said...

I am having trouble following this. Non experts rely upon qualified people to review and sanity check bids. When a resurfacing project identifies other structural problems, these are out of scope and require change orders. One never know what lies beneath. Are these contracts award based on best value, best outcome, or lowest cost? I suppose a vendor can low ball the initial bid and hedge their bets that additional work would be required on projects such as these.

Anonymous said...

I work for the City and none of this makes sense to me.

Mr. Clark's testimony to City Council stated that existing pool walls were "severely undersized" and that "What you got was a lot less than what you were supposed to get". I watched the video from the council meeting. He also stated that the existing walls had failed because of this. This is all untrue. If I'm reading this correct the original drawings indicate that sizes are accurate and that the City got exactly what they were supposed to get. Furthermore, they lasted in the that flood plain for more that 65 years. So his testimony is false. He also stated that this additional costs for this larger wall was required in order to last more than 50 years but yet the thinners walls lasted for 65 years.

It doesn't add up.

Bernie O'Hare said...

I went into the weeds a bit on this one. But As you know, Clark is dead wrong. The City's own engineer confirmed the shell is 5" thick.

Anonymous said...

Bernie is correct. City workers confirmed that the existing drawings show the existing pool exactly the way they found it in the field. And yes, it lasted that way since 1951. Very Sad.

Anonymous said...

Annon 2:00PM

I think the point Bernie makes is that the City made drastic decisions that costs the taxpayers over $600,000.00 on the word of man who:
1. Is not a Professional Structural Engineer
2. Had a MAJOR conflict of interest and should not have been hired by the City in the first place. You should not work and collect money from individuals and also collect money to oversee their work at the same time. I think that should be obvious.
3. Gave bad advice to city council when they decided to vote in favor of the measure. He seems to explain a false scenario to them.
Council, at a minimum, should clarify what they voted on and why.

That's all. Doesn't sound like an axe to grind.

Anonymous said...

FedEd is gonna' be waddling his penguin butt into a pool, just not Cedar Beach pool. It will be a pool of federal prisoners!

Anonymous said...

Bern....
This is no lie. On the same night 12/21 City Council voted to IGNORE the structural fix provided by Pennoni Associates for Cedar Beach which was an already approved CO of + or - $50K they also voted to APPROVE an open ended contract for Pennoni to provide on call Emergency Structural Engineering. You can't make this up.

Edward Hozza Jr said...

Some updated information from Whitehall Township regarding this story. MidAtlantic Construction and Design Associates and their division MidAtlantic Commercial Aquatics has extensive experience in rehabilitating and constructing new commercial pools. During the spring and summer of 2016 the firm was working on at least four projects in Pennsylvania. The Cranberry Township Water Park addition (North of Pittsburgh), the Fleetwood Borough Pool, The City of Allentown Cedar Beach Pool and the Whitehall Township Parkview Hokendauqua pool. In Whitehall, the original scope of work was to sandblast the original pool and replaster the enter pool at a cost of $197,000 During the sandblasting it was uncovered that the 1980's rehab work to the piping system was failing. The decision was made to excavate the entire perimeter of the pool and replace all the pool piping to the pump house and replace the pumps. While the opening of the pool was delayed, we believe that we received a quality job from Midatlantic. Mr. Joe Ramirez and his family were up front with us and provided to us excellent service. As to the character of Mr. Frank Clark of Keystone Engineering KCE I have worked with him for the past nine years and have know he is ethical in the treatment of everyone. I value his expert opinion in projects both private and public. Frank's number one goal being to protect the residents and visitors to Whitehall Township.

Bernie O'Hare said...

Ed, at the time MidAtlantic was awarded the bid for Cedar Beach, it had done one job in Springfield Tp, NJ. The projects you mention all arose within the last year. If you are satisfied with paying more for a project and seeing it finished behind schedule, Ramirez is your man. But frankly, I am disturbed by this kind of spending. And as you know, Frank Clark is not a professional engineer. I question whether he is qualified. I know he had his facts wrong when he described Cedar Beach pool.

Anonymous said...

What was the process to determine shell thickness? Was it tested throughout the pool, sidewalls and bottom? Was it uniform thickness?

Anonymous said...

The entire top of wall was saw cut 2'-0" below the top of existing wall.

Anonymous said...

Why did Spillman Farmer partner with Harrisburg-based Wade Associates. Also, in 2014, the Mcall suggested the pool woukd cost $2.1M during ground breaking. By 2015 opening it was listed at $2.3M. That's a $200k change order. Nazareth planned on spending $2.5M. Designs varied a low of $2.5M for a pool half the size of the original upto $2.7M which was 37% smaller than the original pool. Since you are comparing the costs of $2.3M Nazareth Pool to $2.55M Cedar Beach Pool, I like to know if they are comparable in size? We know Allenton has some structural and soil problems, however, assuming all is equal, one would have to consider the square foot cost of each pool?

Anonymous said...

547 correction re Nazareth. The smallest design (half the size of the original pool) was estimated at $2.2M. Only the $2.7M design kept the same "U" shaped design as the original.

Bernie O'Hare said...

5:47, Spillman-Farmer partnered with Wade bc of is expertise in pool equipment. Also, regarding cost,I have the contract.. My figure is accurate. The 2014 story was likely an estimate before bids came in. As for your questions concerning size and cost comparisons, you need an engineer, not a blogger.

Bernie O'Hare said...

5:07, I do not know what process was used. I do know that there are reports from Pennoni showing a thickness exactly as the pool was designed in 1951.

Bernie O'Hare said...

Ed, Think about this for a second. In 2016, MidAtlantic suddenly was working on four pools simultaneously. That alone should explain why it was behind schedule. I know there were complaints in Fleetweood. I also know that the City sent an email complaining that it was not on the job. I also know that the City was nearly liened bc MidAtlantic was not paying at least one of its subs.

Anonymous said...

You do forget the Supreme Law of Allentown that allows the mayor to waive all zoning and permits if the project is to the benefir of the City or billboards un public places.

Anonymous said...

What a mess. Why are municipalities still in the pool business in 2017?

Anonymous said...

Annon: 5:47

The Nazareth Pool budget included costs to completely renovate the Historic Bathhouse, including structural issues from a decaying steel beam. The actual Aquatic Construction Contract for the pool itself was $1.2 million which was awarded to Vincent Pools. There were other prime contracts for the bathhouse renovation work and site electric upgrades for Bracy Contracting, Ace Electric and KC Mechanical. These additional costs totaled $936,602.00. Cedar Beach included pool and pump room only if my memory serves me correct. So you are off base in comparing the two. Nazareth Pool was also a completely new pool.
We budgeted $2.5 million in our bond for the total project. All of the Construction Costs plus Engineering totaled just over $2.3 million at the end of the day and no there was not one single change order on the project.

Anonymous said...

Mayor Hozza,
Thank you for commenting on this blog. You are a man of transparency and I appreciate that.
Our project was much different than yours and we had a different experience.
Your project was 1/10th of the size and complexity as ours.

There were shouting matches between the construction workers and city staff on multiple occasions. Nothing was getting done. It was reported by City Staff that Fleetwoood was having the same problems and Whitehall actually missed their deadline for getting the pool open as well.

It's a shame how this project has deteriorated the reputations of so many and for no good reason. Mr. Clark was either mistaken or misleading in his testimony to council. You see, the existing cedar beach pool regardless of wall thicknesses, soils and locations has lasted since the 1950's. That is a heck of a long time. If Mr. Clark is as you say he will correct the record or at least provide the appropriate people justification in his positions back up by someone else with proper credentials. We already know that Davinci engineering never provided anything to the City stating deficiencies in the design provided by Pennoni. And if they did, they would have to prove why then the same design lasted for over 60 years.
Mr. Clark working for both the contractor and the city is not very honorable. Sad part is that he continues to do so.
Maybe you should have a talk with him.
Have a nice night and thanks again for commenting.

Anonymous said...

Annon 5:47

It is common practice for local firms to consult with aquatic specialists. This is done all over the state. There are only a few in PA and only 1 that is actually an Architect as well but they are all out of town firms.
Spillman Farmer has completed the following Aquatic Projects that I know of:
Rodale Aquatic Center
Suburban Swim Club
Liberty High School Pool
City of Easton Municipal Pool Renovations
North Carolina State Natatorium
Kidspeace Aquatic Center
Nazareth Borough Pool
Stephens Institute
I'm sure they have completed more that I couldn't find on google search.....

Anonymous said...

Public Documents show the contractor sawcut the top of the pool wall revealing the thickness of the wall around the entire pool. The contractor also indicates these thicknesses to be 5 1/2 to 6" which is consistent with the original drawings from the 1950's. The contractor also did core samples showing a 3 1/2" floor slab which is also consistent with the 1950's drawings.

Anonymous said...

The rumor mill is reporting that the original Engineers would not sign off on another engineers work because it was not justified and there were no costs presented to inform any type of decision either way. KCE brought everyone into a meeting and asked them to agree anyway or they would face substantial attorney fees. After that the city spent the months from August to December "looking for cause" to terminate the contract which they never found.

Anonymous said...

Whether it's Sunrise, Broward County Florida or Cedar Beach, Pa when it comes to swimming pool taxpayer take a bath.

It's really a problem everywhere only a matter of degrees.

Anonymous said...

I hope the city residents eventually get their pool built and can enjoy it for many years to come. The sad part is that the City is in serious trouble here and will likely be met with a substantial law suit. The reporting on this matter to date has been one sided so it is nice to have had you report this, Bernie. Tonight City Council requested an executive session to discuss the topic and the items you reported. Maybe they will decide to meet with all parties themselves this time.

Bernie O'Hare said...

City Council is in a Catch 22. People want that pool to open this Summer. On the other hand, people don't want to be overbilled.

Anonymous said...

If the Cedar Beach pool was built so wonderfully to last 65 years, why did it need repairs? Maybe, just maybe, those "facts" Bernie, aren't really correct and, perhaps, the pool walls were supposed to be much thicker? Ask the question about why the pool needed to be repaired in the first place and you might just discover it was leaking, leaking badly. Like a whole boatload of water, perhaps millions of gallons of water. And here's a shock, repair projects do often run into unanticipated problems. Might be the case here, maybe. To call someone not an expert clearly shows some have no idea what a court of law defines as an expert. And do you really think KCE doesn't have a staff of engineers who work on these projects, not just one guy?
I know, facts don't matter as long as you can report something to keep the "Fed Ed" story going. Sad, truly sad.

Anonymous said...

Annon 11:27.
What pool project similar in size in recent time has KCE done?
No one is disagreeing that it needed repaired. Just that there was another fix that was cheaper that was ignored for no reason other than the contractor needed an excuse. KCE does not employee structural engineers only civil.
The heart of the story is based on conflicts of interest. There is a big one here. Thick walls or thin walls either way what was there lasted 65 years and what was there was a 5" wall.

Bernie O'Hare said...

I think it's safe to say that the Cedar Beach pool designed and built in 1951 is vastly superior to swimming pools built today, but that's an opinion. The fact is that there was a crack in only one location, which was probably caused by demo work.The fact is that the pool shell was indeed between 3 1/2- 5 1/2" thick. This is documented by several engineers along with Pennoni, the City's own engineer. The fact is that the change order calls for the removal of a perfectly good wall that was placed there precisely to avoid storm waters. The fact is that there were no ereal unanticipated problems, and the pool should have been done last summer.The fact is that the General contractor took on too much work elsewhere. The fact is that two of the other projects he worked on that summer also were behind schedule. KCE he was beinng paid by both the GC and the City, an obvious conflict of interest. It is a very good firm, I agree ,and has several professional engineers. But they were not working the project. Gary Clark is, and the fact is that he is not a professional engineer. The fact is that that the GC failed to pull permits.The fact is that Barry Isset, who was inspecting this work for the pool builders, was also being paid by the City to review it. That is another conflict. Shall I go on?

Anonymous said...

Mayor Hozza.
Just for kicks. Please tell me how the hell you can realize that underground piping is failing if you are simply doing a replaster job? That doesn't make much sense.

Anonymous said...

All valid points, Bernie that the city refuses to accept. Why do you think they have been hiding the change order subscriptions from the public.

Anonymous said...

According to Nazareths website, their new pool was designed by Wayne Associates (Harrisburg) in conjunction with Spillman Farmer. The Mcall reported that Wayne Wade was to complete 80 percent of the work at Cedar Beach, but he died in January, delaying the project. I suspect sometime after that is when Mid Atlantic was brought in, given recent work in PA. I suspect Wade Associates, like Mid Atlantic specializes in construction.

Anonymous said...

Wade Associates is a pool design firm, not a construction firm. They have completed almost all of the pool design work in PA. It was common for almost every firm in PA doing a pool design project to include Wade as a sub. Before the owner died, the firm was purchased by an architectural firm.

Anonymous said...

Bernie. The City will ignore the facts on this one as always. Let's not forget that it's election time.

Anonymous said...

Bernie. Did Cedar Beach ever get opened ? or did the contractor squeeze out some more change orders. I wonder how many cracks are in the deck.

Bernie O'Hare said...

Still not opened and the contractor is holding the City hostage for more $.