The Charleston County School District spends millions of your dollars every year on what's called project managers. Project managers are from an outside company hired to oversee school building projects, but some building experts question whether a project manager is really necessary.
In 2011, CCSD embarked on a $490 million plan to build and renovate schools; the payout was $18.7 million for project management between 2011 and 2016.
Local architects came to the I-Team when the school district announced their budget shortfall. The architects said the district is spending millions of dollars on duplicated services.
According to the South Carolina Chapter of the American Institute of Architects, architects have traditionally consulted, evaluated, planned, designed, coordinated consultants, administered contracts, and reviewed construction to ensure compliance with the design. Architects also serve as the owner's representative in meetings with building officials, testifying before review commissions, and ensuring the budget and schedule are on track throughout the process.
When the I-Team reviewed the most recent contract CCSD signed with a project management firm, it appears they do the same thing. Many of their tasks included coordination, scheduling, cost estimating, and contract preparation.
And while architects are required by law to carry loads of liability insurance, the CCSD contract frees the project management company of any liability should work go sideways.
Brad Benjamin is the president of the South Carolina Chapter of the American Institute of Architects; he’s based in Greenville and spoke with the I-Team via skype.
“Sometimes there are some issues where the project managers are trying to oversee services we traditionally provide and we are uniquely license to provide those services.
The organization followed up with a statement that read, in part:
"The South Carolina Chapter of the American Institute of Architects is troubled by the increasing trend of the use of Construction Managers, on schools projects in South Carolina, who are providing services that are traditionally provided by others on the project team and, most alarmingly, services that they may not be authorized by state law to provide."
The school benefits
According to CCSD's Chief Operating Officer, Jeff Borowy, construction managers can be beneficial for large, complicated projects in a short period of time so the school district doesn't have to hire staff and pay benefits.
“We have site managers out there every day,” Borowy explained.
He told the I-Team the contract provides the district with extra accounting and scheduling personnel.
“We have specialized engineers that provide support. At any one time the construction management team may be providing 20 people,” he added
This school year the district opened Chicora, Springfield and James Simons Elementary Schools along with completing several other projects around the district. Borowy says project using a management firm gives the school district one company to deal with instead of overseeing all architects and contractors doing work for the district.
Borowy says CCSD is ultimately in charge of every decision though project management employees have input on planning and execution of the builds.
“The success going backwards is out there in our new schools and the kids that are being educated in them,” he said.
The I-Team compared Charleston's building program with the other two local districts.
Dorchester County originally hired a project management firm but decided to bring management in house by hiring three full time staff members.
According to the DD2 Chief Financial Officer Allyson Duke DD2 spends $340,000 on salaries and benefits every year for the three staff members that handle the building program. The building program in DD2 will cost a total of $187 million. Charleston County's project managers cost CCSD $3.1 million each year of the $420 million building program.
But Bowory says it would be impossible for CCSD to hire staff in-house and get the same level of service they get now.
“I don't think the projects can be as successful as they've been without the providing the oversight,” he said.