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Lyons School District board may audit roof job tied to hardware store

Lembke   Sons Hardware Berwyn Ill. Friday February 1 2013. | Andrew A. Nelles~Sun-Times Media

Lembke & Sons Hardware in Berwyn, Ill., on Friday, February 1, 2013. | Andrew A. Nelles~Sun-Times Media

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Updated: September 29, 2013 6:17AM



A school board attorney recommended Monday that the Lyons School District 103 board consider hiring an independent auditor to look into a roof project that went way over budget and was done without a competitive bidding process.

“How that happened is not so clear,” attorney Heidi Katz told the board.

It’s one of two construction projects the school board is considering auditing. The other project, Katz said, could be looked at by the “reputable” architects that did the job and may not need an auditor.

The roof project was particularly lucrative to the owner of a Berwyn hardware store, Lembke & Sons True Value, which has been the subject of an internal investigation in Cicero.

In Lyons, the roof project at Edison Elementary School cost the district at least four times the original estimate. There was no bidding process, and Lembke’s and a separate company apparently connected to the hardware store’s president received most of the business for that project, records show.

Cicero’s inspector general determined last year that some Cicero department heads befriended and socialized with the store’s president, Alan Lembke. That, the inspector general said, was, “creating an atmosphere of collusion, and giving an unfair advantage to the vendor.”

The district’s director of maintenance, Tom Sheehy, told the Chicago Sun-Times last week that the audit was a “political witch hunt.” He said the roof job cost more than anticipated because the project became a bigger job.

But Sheehy acknowledged that he and Lembke are pals.

Lembke has not responded to requests for comment.

Several people at the standing-room-only board meeting stood in support of Sheehy and said he had done a great job for the district. Sheehy apparently wasn’t at the meeting.

Board member Deanna Huxhold was shocked that an auditor could cost $360 an hour and questioned the need to spend that much money. That drew applause from the crowd and shouts such as: “That’s our money.”

But school board president Sharon Anderson said she wanted an audit to look into the finances and procedures of the projects.

Lembke’s hardware store, on its own, has done well with the district, taking in more than $800,000 over the last six years, according to records.

A1 Building Maintenance and Plumbing, one of the companies that worked on the roofing project, and the hardware store appear to have netted $172,420 in work and supplies provided to the 2012 Edison roof project, according to school district billing records, some of which were amended by hand. That’s 62 percent of the total cost of the project. A1 Building Maintenance and Plumbing lists as its business address Lembke’s Darien home, according to records.

The records provided by the school district regarding the roofing project indicate that it cost nearly $278,000.

Sheehy and some school board members dispute that total amount. Sheehy said the entire project cost closer to $152,500.

School officials could not offer an explanation for the discrepancies, except to say the records may have included regular maintenance for the roof as well.

The project initially was anticipated to cost $35,000, and the district was not required to post the project for competitive bidding, records show.

Officials in the Lyons school district also may audit a middle-school renovation that cost more than $7 million. Lembke does not appear to be involved in that project, records show.

Officials said they want an audit because the projects were so expensive.

School board members now have to decide if they want to audit both projects, narrow the scope of the probe and choose a firm.

Contributing: Jon Seidel

Email: bschlikerman@suntimes.com

Twitter: @schlikerman



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