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Published: Saturday, 3/31/2012

TPS: Lack of bids cuts into turf

Grant for Waite football field may have violated state law

BY NOLAN ROSENKRANS
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Dirt kicked up over the new turf at Waite High School's football field these days isn't from games, but how the grass was planted.

Jack Mollenkopf Stadium got new turf through a $100,000 grant awarded in October from the Cleveland Browns in conjunction with the National Football League Grassroots Program and the Local Initiatives Support Corp.

The grant was heralded at the time, as players for the Waite Indians and East Toledo Junior Football League got a new playing surface with no cost to taxpayers. But now, Waite employees may be disciplined over how the grant and subsequent contract for work was handled.

At issue, it appears, is a matter of process. Though work on the grant mostly originated through LISC and the junior football league, which uses Waite's facility, TPS technically received the benefit, and Waite employees entered into a contract with a turf company for the work.

As a public agency, TPS is required by state law to competitively bid out work for construction, repair, and improvement projects with costs of at least $25,000. But there were no bids; Oregon-based Maumee Bay Turf Center, which helped with the grant, received the contract.

In the end, TPS may have violated state law by essentially awarding Maumee Bay a $100,000 no-bid contract, district officials admit. Neither the treasurer office's nor the business office was consulted about the grant or contract; TPS involvement was handled at Waite without district knowledge, TPS Business Manager Jim Gant said.

"To be honest with you, in terms of the process, we were not happy with the process," Mr. Gant said. "We were not happy with how it all came together."

As part of the grant, Maumee Bay and others agreed to in-kind contributions for the project. Marguerite Benson-West, a program assistant at LISC Toledo, said East Toledo community groups searched for a low price and settled on Maumee Bay.

Mike Smith, president of the football league, said his organization had no involvement searching out firms; that work was done by either LISC or TPS, he said.

Maumee Bay wanted to begin work in the fall before the first snow. Because funding from the national LISC office didn't arrive until 2012, LISC officials warned Maumee Bay that no one would get paid until spring. Work is largely finished on the natural grass turf.

District officials were alerted to TPS financial involvement only in recent days when Maumee Bay representatives contacted Toledo Board of Education members because the firm had not yet been paid.

P.J. Kapfhammer, Maumee Bay co-owner who was elected in November to the Oregon Board of Education, said since the project was from a private donation, he didn't believe bids were required.

"The money never comes to them," he said. "It's really easy; it's a free Christmas."

But TPS officials say there's a formal process so the district doesn't skirt the law. Both Mr. Gant and Superintendent Jerome Pecko said the district plans to pursue disciplinary action against employees over how the grant was handled.

Waite Principal David Yenrick declined to comment, citing TPS policy that employees must refer reporters to the district's communication department. While district officials did not say Mr. Yenrick specifically may be disciplined, Waite boosters have pre-emptively come to his defense.

Waite alumni association Chairman Jean Clark called Mr. Yenrick "one of the most hardworking employees Toledo Public Schools has," and said any errors made were not intentional.

"Dave [Yenrick] should be given an award, not disciplined," she said.

Mr. Gant called Mr. Yenrick an "asset to the district."

Ms. Benson-West bemoaned that the benefit to the East Toledo community at no taxpayer charge has been overshadowed recently by the drama.

"I can't believe this is even an issue," she said. "This is supposed to be a good thing."

The Toledo LISC office recently received a grant application from a second TPS school for new turf. Ms. Benson-West said she hopes the Waite experience doesn't jeopardize the latest grant application.

Contact Nolan Rosenkrans at: nrosenkrans@theblade.com or 419-724-6086.



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