Businesses owned by minorities and women received 28 percent of the Wake County school system’s construction contracts during the past fiscal year – double the percentage from nine years ago.
School facilities staff on Tuesday attributed the increase to the use of a method for handling major projects that has led to increased recruiting of minority businesses. But this approach, called “construction manager at risk,” has also drawn complaints that it has led to some past contractors being cut out of projects.
“We have consistently over time done a good job of high minority participation in facilities and construction,” school board member Keith Sutton said at the board’s facilities committee meeting.
Under school board policy, it’s the district’s goal to have at least 10 percent of construction and repair projects awarded to minority businesses. The purpose, according to the policy, is to provide minorities with equal opportunities.
School staff say it was harder reaching the goal when Wake relied on single-prime bidding, in which the winning bidder manages the whole project. The contractor often does some of the work while also bidding out parts to subcontractors.
But since 2007, Wake has used “construction manager at risk” for projects of more than $15 million. In this method, a company is hired to manage the project but not do the work. The manager solicits bids from subcontractors and oversees their work.
Alex Fuller, Wake’s senior director for program controls, said that “construction managers at risk” actively recruits qualified minority businesses to bid. He said this method receives three times more bids from minority businesses than single-prime projects.
In the 2014-15 fiscal year, minority businesses received 28 percent of the $300 million in construction contracts, or about $84 million.
Rising construction costs are causing some projects to be dropped from the building program. But Fuller said the rising costs can’t be blamed on using “construction manager at risk” or on getting more minority businesses involved.
“They still do have to do the same quality work and be the lowest responsible bidder,” Fuller said. “This is not a handout.”
Highcroft Elementary change backed
The Wake County school board’s facilities committee backed Tuesday recommendations from staff to convert Highcroft Elementary School in Cary to a traditional calendar and to leave three schools on the multi-track year-round calendar.
Committee members said switching Highcroft for the 2016-17 school year will help meet the need for more traditional-calendar seats in western Wake. The committee also supported leaving Brier Creek Elementary in northwest Raleigh and Salem elementary and middle schools, both in Apex, on the multi-track calendar.
The full board will vote on the recommendations July 21.