School construction agency halts 97 projects as funds dry up

| 28 Sep 2011 | 02:56

    TRENTON - The state’s Schools Construction Corp. has ordered architects and engineers to stop work on 97 projects that the state has already spent $187 million on to cover land acquisition and design costs. Peter Maricondo, the SCC’s acting chief executive officer, notified school superintendents of the decision in a recent letter, The Star-Ledger of Newark reported in Monday’s editions. The order comes just months after the SCC, created in 2002 with the promise of building schools more efficiently, said it was running out of money to complete its mission. It is now undergoing a complete overhaul in the wake of a series of reports that found it was wasting millions of dollars through excessive professional fees and poor management. The SCC was set up to administer a $6 billion fund for building or upgrading hundreds of public schools in 31 needy communities, including big cities such as Newark and Jersey City and smaller towns such as Millville and Burlington City. However, less than one-third of the schools have been completed so far. In July, the SCC approved a plan spending the final $1.4 billion in its fund on 59 building and renovation projects, meaning more than 200 projects in the needy districts were halted indefinitely. The new directive from Maricondo clarifies that decision by ordering professional architects and engineers to stop working on 97 of the shelved projects that were already in various stages of architectural development. ``The purpose of this suspension is to ensure that the SCC does not continue to spend dollars on projects that are unable to be constructed with this round of funding,’’ Maricondo wrote. Of the 97 projects affected, 35 are in the final stages of architectural development, the development of designs that are the basis for construction bids. Those design projects will be finished under the state’s new order, but architects will not be able to do any further work that usually comes following the bid process. Another 20 projects will be closed down when the architects have completed the project development, but have not started drawing up documents needed to put a project out to bid. The other 42 projects are still in the early stages of design work, and will not proceed any further. David Sciarra, executive director of the Education Law Center in Newark, the nonprofit group whose lawsuit led to the creation of the fund, criticized the latest directive. ``This is a decision that makes no fiscal sense,’’ he said. ``If the state were serious about efficiently using its resources they would have completed these designs.’’ Kevin McElroy, spokesman for the schools construction corporation, said the state plans to lift the suspension when lawmakers find a new source of funds for the program. ``We anticipate, with additional funding, being able to move these projects,’’ he said.