Past may catch up with Stamford school facilities management firm
STAMFORD — Not showing at meetings. Not providing help in emergencies. Leaving the district short-handed.
These are some of the complaints ABM, the facilities management firm for Stamford Public Schools, has garnered in the nearly two years it’s been with the district. And the Board of Education is starting to lose its patience
In an email to Superintendent Earl Kim before his evaluation at a Board of Education retreat Jan. 12, Board President Andy George addressed their concerns about the company.
“The Board is generally displeased with facilities management, especially during the past several months,” George wrote. “ABM appears to be derelict in their oversight of personnel, their response to the mold conditions experienced since August and the lack of management reporting to the Board.”
George said the Board must decide what to do next with ABM, whether it’s renewing their contract, hiring another company or considering new alternatives altogether.
Last week, Kim told the Stamford Advocate that Chief Fiscal and Operations Support Officer Clarence Zachery will be doing an evaluation and making a recommendation to the board and ABM. Kim said the board has three months to decide what to do about ABM before their contract expires at the end of June.
However, Kim added Zachery’s focus in the meantime is working on a facilities systems redesign to improve the way work orders are received and processed and to prevent future crises like the mold that’s hit this year.
“It is complex,” Kim said. “We know there are system glitches and those need to be solved and there are techniques to do that.
“Between those two great minds,” he said, referring to Zachery and Director of Finance Hugh Murphy who is assisting, “I believe we can solve it.”
Some board members are leaning toward a new path for district facilities altogether. Board member Nicola Tarzia, who also heads the Operations Committee which deals with facilities, told the Advocate he’s hoping the board can work together to come up with a procedure to move facilities in-house.
“I’m not happy and a few other board members aren’t happy with (ABM’s) performance and lack of attendance,” Tarzia said. “They’ve been present in the main office, but I don’t know how much they’ve been present on site. ... I feel and I know a few member are feeling hopefully ... we can generate an in-house process that benefits all parties.”
While no decisions have been made and the Board’s call will depend on Zachery’s recommendation, Tarzia said it seems like the district has the support to move facilities in-house if they can find the qualified staff.
Tarzia, who heads his own construction group which builds and renovates luxury homes, said he has spoken with George and other board members about the idea, including Mike Altamura, who has been vocal about his issues with ABM in the past as well. Tarzia said the hope is to make a decision about ABM by the end of the month.
“The timing is crucial,” Tarzia said. “We don’t want to come in with a last-minute recommendation and then we’re stuck again.”
Stamford’s recent history with its facilities management contractors has been messy. In 2017, the Board of Education hired ABM after nearly two decades with AFB Construction Management, a Trumbull-based based firm run by Al Barbarotta who was under FBI investigation at the time. Federal officials were looking into whether Barbarotta used his position to extort money from another city contractor; he has since been cleared of any wrongdoing.
Since hiring ABM, the Board of Education has expressed concerns over custodial vacancies and the resulting overtime. Last year, the district was over on its custodial overtime budget by $600,000.
ABM has also faced complaints about their lack of presence in the schools. In May, two of ABM’s top Stamford employees resigned. A month later, the Board asked ABM to meet with them to discuss concerns. No representatives showed up to the meeting.
Yet in ABM’s year-end review and report written by Director of Facilities Rich Lyons, he said ABM was successful in some areas including implementing a Quarterly Quality Insurance Inspection program for all schools and a Preventative Maintenance program.
“While the first year was a transition year for ABM there many (sic) issues arose throughout the year,” Lyons wrote. “ABM looks forward to using some of the key criteria, lessons learn and data form (sic) the Year End Review and Report as we move forward.”
The report is dated Aug. 9, 2018, about one month before complaints of mold in the schools were publicly brought to the board’s attention.
email@example.com; (203) 964-2265; @erin_kayata