CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas — The Texas Education Agency (TEA) has confirmed to KRIS 6 News that it is reviewing a complaint regarding the Corpus Christi Independent School District’s (CCISD) method of awarding a construction contract in 2020.
The contract to build new classrooms at Ella Barnes Elementary School went to Fulton Construction on July 16.
However, video has surfaced with a July 14 timestamp showing a Fulton crew working on the project without even the customary “guaranteed maximum price” agreement.
At a June 8 school board meeting, CCISD Construction Project Manager John Dibala suggested that $4 million remaining from the 2016 bond issue could pay for the renovations. The bid process was completed by July 9, with Fulton edging the firm of Weaver & Jacobs, 100 to 98.
According to public records from the City of Corpus Christi, however, Fulton obtained a permit to work the site on July 2, a full week before the bid scores were tabulated, and two weeks before being awarded the contract.
No one from CCISD would be interviewed for this story. The district did issue a statement that read in part, “Fulton chose to begin mobilization work at the Barnes site at their own risk, an action taken occasionally to maximize efficiency once projects receive full approval.”
KRIS 6 News asked a district spokesperson for just one similar example. The spokesperson declined to answer.
The guaranteed maximum price for the project wasn’t approved by the board until September 14. The price? Exactly $4 million.
In February, at a weekly gathering known as the “Thursday morning business meeting,” the group’s founder, Eloy Salazar, asked pointed questions of CCISD trustee Jaime Arredondo concerning the Barnes contract.
“Did Fulton start construction before the board awarded the contract?” Salazar asked.
“Yes,” Arredondo answered. “They got their permit on July 2nd. The award of the contract was on July 16th.”
“So, it was started and agreed upon by staff prior to the board actually taking action to approve it? Correct?” Salazar asked.
“Right,” said Arredondo.
Another group member, contractor Michael Miller, took issue with the guaranteed maximum price of the project. Not the number, but the fact that the number seemed to have been determined back on June 8, before the project was put out for bid.
“Every guaranteed maximum price I’ve ever submitted on any construction manager at risk (CMAR) project is a very specific number, not a big fat number,” said Miller, alluding to the $4 million figure mentioned by DiBala as the amount left over from the 2016 bond issue.
Despite the repeated efforts of KRIS 6 Investigates, no one from Fulton Construction would comment for this story.
On November 10, 2020, the FBI raided Fulton’s Corpus Christi offices, confiscating computers, files and other documents as potential evidence in a case that remains under seal. Also raided that day was the home of CCISD trustee John Longoria.
The FBI refused to comment when asked if the two cases were connected in any way. The TEA also declined, except to confirm the Barnes contract review is ongoing. No one at the TEA would answer questions about potential penalties if CCISD and Fulton are found in violation.
CCISD's full statement: "Following the call for bids, evaluation and scoring in June 2020, CCISD notified Fulton Construction that the district would be making a recommendation to the board that they be awarded the Barnes wing project. In the interest of time, Fulton chose to begin mobilization work at the Barnes site at their own risk, an action taken occasionally to maximize efficiency once projects receive full approval. Within days, the Board approved the contract, and work continued from mid-July 2020 until completion and occupancy on January 25, 2021. CCISD is grateful for the additional classroom space for our students.
"Corpus Christi ISD takes its role as stewards of public funds seriously. We are proud of completing projects across the city that are bringing new classrooms and new buildings to our students and staff. As we focus on completing what has been an extraordinarily challenging school year due to the pandemic, we respectfully decline further comment on this matter."
EDITOR'S NOTE: This article has been updated to clarify a complaint has been filed and is being reviewed by the Texas Education Agency. The TEA is not currently investigating CCISD.