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Berkeley County school construction contract awarded with no required ‘prevailing wage’

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. — West Virginia’s prevailing wage controversy did not play a role in the bidding for a construction project at Potomack Intermediate School in Spring Mills.

“When the documents (advertising requests for bids) went out, and we had a pre-bid conference on June 16, prevailing wage was to be included in the bids,” Berkeley County Public Schools Superintendent Manny Arvon said in a telephone interview Wednesday. “But on July 2, our architect sent two addendums and in one of the addendums, it tells the bidders that as of July 1, prevailing wage does not exist in West Virginia, and the bids were to be submitted without prevailing wage.”

The deadline to submit bids was July 8. Six bids were submitted.

 

A construction project to add six classrooms to Potomack Intermediate School was awarded Monday to the low bidder, Minghini’s General Contractors Inc. of Martinsburg, during a Berkeley County school board meeting. Minghini’s bid was $986,000.

Funding for the project included a $1 million West Virginia School Building Authority grant, Arvon said, and $125,200 in local money, for a total budget of about $1.125 million. The low bid came in about $139,000 below budget.

During Monday’s discussion of the bids, Arvon said that he had been told by one of the contractors that without prevailing wage, there was possibly a savings of $200,000 to $300,000 in the construction costs. Arvon would not say which of the six bidders told him that.

“I can’t confirm that – the estimate was theirs – that’s what someone said,” Arvon said. “I don’t have the labor costs. We have not analyzed the contract for labor costs.”

Prevailing wage is a term used for minimum pay scales, usually including benefits and overtime, for workers that are set by law based on what is paid to a majority of workers in a given area.

At the beginning of this year’s legislative session, the new Republican majority in the West Virginia Legislature wanted to completely eliminate the state prevailing wage, but they backed off after opponents of eliminating the prevailing wage put pressure on the GOP leadership to modify its position.

Ultimately, the Legislature passed a law eliminating the prevailing wage requirements on projects using state funds that cost less than $500,000, and ordered WorkForce West Virginia, with the aid of West Virginia University’s and Marshall University’s business and economics bureaus, to revamp the way prevailing wage is determined in the state. WorkForce West Virginia had until the middle of June to present their report.

When the report was presented, Republican legislative leaders said WorkForce West Virginia did not follow its directions laid out in the legislation, and rejected the report.

At midnight June 30, the end of the fiscal year, prevailing wage in West Virginia expired. As of July 1, there was no state prevailing wage.

“This is a great opportunity to look at data to compare like projects from last year with prevailing wage and now without prevailing wage,” Arvon said. “We could get true cost analyses of before and after. The question is, ‘What is a skilled worker worth?’ It’s simplistic when you have the data.”

During Arvon’s nearly 19-year tenure as superintendent, Berkeley County schools have grown by 7,000 students. The system has built 10 new schools and completed 37 renovation and expansion projects.

– Staff writer John McVey can be reached at 304-263-3381, ext. 128.

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