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."