The million dollar question

Will there be a significant price increase in the construction cost of a multipurpose building at Minden High School? That, students, is the (almost) one million dollar question that must be answered by the Webster Parish School Board.

Last week, the school board’s buildings and maintenance committee listened as contractors for the project, ELA Group, Inc., made the case for an additional $974,728 (and change) to cover what officials said were increased costs of materials and supplies.

Those price increases, said Ed Angel Sr.  and Jr., are the result of delays in the more than nine million dollar job caused primarily by ground water that refused to stop seeping onto the construction site. Those delays, the Angels said, have caused at least a year’s delay and have made subcontractors hesitant to move on without some type of compensation for the increased cost of goods.

While making their plea for the additional near-million, committee member Jerry Lott made note that the company had already asked for and received more than six hundred thousand dollars in change orders. That’s a bunch’a change.

Looking at the bottom line, a line that seems to be heading toward bottomless, a construction project that was originally awarded at $9.908 million has reached about ten and a half million, and all we ask is about a million more. And, by the way, it’s only a year behind schedule. 

It’s not a happy day for contractors and their subs these days. Prices indeed have spiraled and, as Angel Jr. mentioned, sometimes price increases are passed along after an order has been placed. It’s a cycle that’s about to lead to a cycle.

Anyone who needs the skinny on the background, and all the they-saids/they-saids can read the news story in the Journal. To make this long story longer, let’s cut to the chase.

School board member Jonathan Guthrie asked the pressing question: is the board contractually obligated to come up with the nine hundred-plus thousand to cover increased costs? Angel Jr. said there was no escalation clause, and the answer was no. Angel Jr. said the company was making a request.

And what if the board doesn’t agree to fork over? The answer was the dreaded “L” word, as in litigation, might be an alternative.  Your humble Rocker has no inside information, but as surely as groundwater, a board refusal will be followed soon after by legal action by ELA. On what grounds, you may ask? We’ve slept in a Holiday Inn Express but we’re no groundfinding attorney.

Although the younger Angel said possible litigation would help no one, his company and its predecessor aren’t strangers to court. 

While operating under the name All Seasons, Angel Sr. brought suit against the City of Shreveport over issues involving renovations at the former State Fair Stadium for the Shreveport Pirates of the Canadian Football League. He has also sued the U. S. government in a case involving the awarding of a contract at Overton Brooks Administration Medical Center in Shreveport. 

There have reportedly been other cases, including one which Angel Sr. now faces personally. A grand jury in the Western District of Louisiana indicted him for allegedly making false statements on an FAA application for an airman medical certificate and for theft of Government funds from the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and the Social Security Administration (SSA). That case is scheduled for trial in a couple of months.

Whatever the reasons, Angel has no problem turning loose the legal hounds. No one should be surprised if the groundwork for judicial action has already been laid. If/when the board says no to the request for additional funds, someone in some office will hit the “send” button and papers will be served.

Perhaps there’s room for compromise. Maybe the nine hundred thousand is the sticker price, and there’s room to wiggle without being stuck. That’s a decision for 12 elected officials, if the committee moves from request to recommendation. 

Whatever the decision, somebody’s not gonna be happy. And if history is a judge, somebody’s building is going to remain under construction until somebody cries uncle.