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LCCC trustees orders solicitor to renegotiate pact with Precept

By Elizabeth Skrapits, Staff Writer, Citizens Voice, 10/23/2008

NANTICOKE — Luzerne County Community College's board of trustees voted Wednesday to have its solicitor renegotiate a controversial construction management contract with Precept Associates LLC.

If the firm refuses, solicitor Joseph Kluger is authorized to proceed with legal action against it, and the board would declare the contract invalid and unenforceable.

The board took action at a five-minute meeting after an executive session lasting more than two hours. Kluger then handed out a press release, declining to answer questions because the matter might involve litigation.

Last week, the Luzerne County commissioners refused to pay $4.9 million of LCCC's bills until Kluger reviewed the contract with Precept Associates. They were concerned because Kluger did not look over the contract before LCCC President Thomas P. Leary signed it on May 18, 2007.

The board didn't know the specifics of the agreement at the time it was approved, according to Luzerne County Commissioner Gregory Skrepenak, who is also vice chairman of the LCCC board.

“The board of trustees don't usually see contracts,” he said. “That's not a normal function of the board.”

The contract didn't have to be bid because it was for professional services. The board plans to bid out all future projects involving construction management.

The Department of State's records show Precept Associates was first incorporated on June 5, 2007, in Pittston, then dissolved on Aug. 13, 2007, and re-formed the same day with an office at 1086 Highway 315 in Plains Township — the same address as Prociak & Associates.

Skrepenak deferred questions about when the firm was formed to Kluger, saying it “may be part of the litigation.”

The principal of Prociak & Associates, Michael Prociak, did accounting for Precept Associates, but has denied having an ownership interest in it.

Prociak & Associates is an independent auditor for LCCC. Skrepenak said he has known Prociak for about 15 years. Prociak served as his personal accountant since 1994, and managed his campaign when he ran for county commissioner.

Asked if he had anything to do with bringing Precept Associates on board, Skrepenak said, “Not at all.”

The architect for LCCC's building projects, the A+E Group, recommended Precept Associates to the board's construction committee, which brought the management firm to the attention of the board, Skrepenak said.

The board approved the hiring of Precept Associates on June 12, 2007. However, Kluger stated in Wednesday's press release that the terms of the contract contradict the resolution the board passed at that time: to hire the firm only as construction manager for the Public Safety Training Institute, which is being built on the campus, and for the renovation of the Kanjorski Center in downtown Nanticoke into the college's Health Sciences building.

“The signed document went beyond the scope of the resolution,” the release stated.

The extent of the job Precept Associates was supposed to do was subject to dispute, Skrepenak said. He said some people believed it was for the two projects, while others thought it was for the entire scope of work in LCCC's master plan.

The firm was also receiving 8 percent of the approximately $20 million construction costs for the projects. Board member Dr. Thomas O'Donnell, who was absent Wednesday, previously stated the board did not approve the 8-percent pay rate.

Asked if 8 percent seemed high, Skrepenak said, “That could be debated. Some people would say yes; some people would say no.”

The percentage of costs paid to construction managers can range from 2 percent to 4 percent up to 10 percent, Skrepenak said. Some firms have a low fee, “but they change-order you to death,” he said.

©Citizens Voice 2008