Controversial no-bid school roofing project in Stickney skirted state law
BY JON SEIDEL AND BECKY SCHLIKERMAN Staff Reporters September 9, 2013 9:05PM
Updated: October 11, 2013 6:06AM
A controversial roofing project in west suburban Stickney skirted state law in various ways, making it possible for a politically connected company to do the work with few questions asked, the Chicago Sun-Times has found.
No bidding process was needed. And no bond was required.
That’s because Lyons Elementary District 103 estimated the project would cost $35,000 — well below the $50,000 threshold in state law that makes such due diligence mandatory.
But when the 2012 project at Edison Elementary School went over budget by at least four times the estimate, most of the business kept going to a pair of companies that are apparently connected: Lembke & Sons True Value and A1 Building Maintenance and Plumbing.
Now a school board attorney has recommended the district hire an independent auditor to look into the roof project. The topic was discussed at a board committee meeting Monday night where school board president Sharon Anderson called the project “a repair gone psychotic.”
A1 doesn’t have a business license in Darien where it’s based, nor is it incorporated in Illinois. And now the Chicago Sun-Times has found through the Freedom of Information Act the school district has no proof of insurance, bonding or licensure from A1.
Finally, the newspaper found no permits were pulled at Stickney Village Hall for the roofing project. Stickney Treasurer Kurt Kasnicka said fees would have been waived for the school district — but the permit was a necessity.
“They were required to come in for a permit,” Kasnicka said.
Now that the project is finished, Kasnicka said there’s no provision for fines or penalties. Meanwhile, according to state law, a contractor only has to provide a bond when doing a project costing more than $50,000. No competitive bidding process was required below that threshold, either.
Alan Lembke, president of Lembke & Sons hardware store in Berwyn, has ignored calls from the Sun-Times for comment. His Darien home address appears on invoices from A1 obtained by the newspaper.
Together, A1 and Lembke’s hardware store appear to have netted $172,420 for work and supplies provided to the roof project, according to school district billing records.
In all, records show the school district has spent nearly $125,000 at A1 in recent years and more than $800,000 at the hardware store over the last six.
Neither the school district’s superintendent nor its school board president could be reached for comment before Monday’s board meeting, and Anderson declined to talk about A1’s lack of documentation afterward. The district’s director of maintenance has defended the project. It’s one of two that might be audited.
The inspector general of nearby Cicero has also looked into Lembke’s dealings with local government. He found some Cicero department heads befriended and socialized with the hardware store’s president, “creating an atmosphere of collusion, and giving an unfair advantage to the vendor.”