RVC’s ‘poor planning’ costs taxpayers

• Two construction projects yield 126 change orders worth $791,578, cost taxpayers $733,600

During remodeling and construction of Rock Valley College’s (RVC) Student Center and Support Services Building(SSB), Sam Overton, RVC’s chief financial officer, reported in a confidential e-mail obtained by The Rock River Times, a total of 126 construction change orders.

According to expert sources, the $791,578 worth of change orders cost taxpayers $733,600, of which $212,649 is directly attributable to “poor planning by college administrators.”

The same sources indicated that of the 126 change orders, 28 can be “directly attributed to poor planning by college administrators,” primarily RVC President Roland Chapdelaine.

Generally, change orders translate into higher costs. However, change orders are almost unavoidable during any construction process. One of the primary goals for executives and construction project managers is to hold the number of change orders to a minimum.

The most expensive individual change orders directly attributable to “poor planning” by RVC administrators were in the newly constructed Support Services Building.

For example, a college-directed change order for additional Information Technology infrastructure cost an additional $51,087. Also, revising the building’s plan cost an additional $41,262 in charges for updating the electrical plans (See “SSB funding, purpose” on page 2).

Experts said the upper limit for acceptable costs of change orders would be 5 percent of the original estimated cost of a construction or remodeling project. For example, a $1 million project should have no more than $50,000 in change orders, if the project is properly planned.

However, RVC racked up about 10.3 percent in change order costs based on Chapdelaine’s previously reported construction estimates.

Chapdelaine originally reported in the local daily in July 2002 the cost of remodeling the Student Center was $3-$4 million. He also reported to the board and the Illinois Community College Board (ICCB) in 2002 the cost of the Support Services Building was $4.2 million. Based on the midpoint of Chapdelaine’s reported range estimate for the Student Center and the Support Services’ $4.2 million estimate, the total estimated costs for both projects was $7.7 million.

Overton’s estimates from last month indicated the actual cost of constructing the Support Services Building was $7.9 million, not $4.2 million. Similarly, cost of the Student Center remodeling was estimated by Overton last month at $6.9 million, not $3-$4 million. That’s a total cost of $14.8 million, nearly double the total of Chapdelaine’s public statements.

According to Overton’s e-mail, as of Nov. 3, the Student Center had 77 change orders with two pending. The same e-mail said as of Oct. 3, the Support Services Building had 59 change orders.

Both projects were funded through non-voter approved bonds that were part of $61.8 million the college has borrowed since 2000, without a voter-approved referendum. Chapdelaine joined RVC in November 1997.

Previously, Chapdelaine worked for his family’s construction company, Joseph Chapdelaine and Sons, Inc., in East Long Meadow, Mass., as an administrator for colleges in the Southwest and as president of Cumberland County Community College in Vineland, N.J.

RVC Trustee Chris Johnson said he would be concerned if there was just one change order but wouldn’t elaborate on what, if any, action the board would take to hold individual RVC administrators responsible for the large number of expensive change orders.

Randy Schaefer, new Board of Trustees’ chairman was asked about Overton’s e-mail, which contained the number and cost of the change orders. Schaefer said, “I’m not aware of it at all,” and added he would, “look into it.”

When RVC’s Technology Center was constructed in 1986 after a voter-approved referendum, sources said the number of change orders was in single digits. The sources also said the change orders for the Technology Center did not add significantly to the cost of the project nor did the change order costs come close to the 5 percent upper limit for the $8-$9 million construction cost.

Overton said Nov. 25 change orders for the reported $12.6 million Bengt Sjostrom Starlight Theater would be available sometime between this week and the last week in January.

Joel Sjostrom, president of Sjostrom and Sons Inc., which the college hired to construct the new theater, made reference to the large number of change orders during a video that was shown at the theater’s gala opening last June. RVC administrators originally reported in July 2002 in the local daily the estimated cost of constructing Starlight was $8 million .

The Rock River Times asked Chapdelaine for comment on the change orders. However, RVC did not respond by time of publication. During the past 10 months, RVC administrators have repeatedly refused comment for numerous investigative articles concerning RVC.

Mike Robinson, RVC’s director of Public Relations, said he would respond to an offer The Rock River Times made Nov. 25. The offer was the RVC administration could submit an unedited guest column if articles concerning RVC required any corrections or clarifications. After the offer was made, Robinson said, “You can bet on it.” Irving (Joe) Drought, RVC’s director of Public Safety, witnessed the offer.

As of this week’s deadline, no such guest column has been submitted.

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