If Pavarini Construction Co. refuses, the district could be headed for a costly legal battle. According to Pavarini President Gary W. Glenewinkel, the company is "in the process of reviewing our records and all data related to this issue."
"You can't rubber-stamp invoices, even if they're for $5," Lindner said. Asked if the district mistakenly paid other construction companies, he said he doesn't know but is going to find out.
"This is just one that I discovered," he said.
District auditors are now reviewing how the error occurred. Lindner said he will consider their findings and determine how to ensure it doesn't happen again.
The district's construction department has been under intense scrutiny after the September arrest of suspended School Board member Beverly Gallagher. She was snared in an FBI sting for allegedly taking bribes to rig construction contracts.
On April 21, the School Board agreed to hire Pavarini to handle the construction of a $6.7 million, 24-room addition to Westglades Middle School in Parkland.
The company stood to make $581,365 in management fees for the project's initial "pre-design" and "design" phases.
But declining enrollment and years of aggressive building left the district with thousands of empty seats. State officials ordered the district to halt its building spree. In August, the School Board voted to abandon the Westglades project along with scores of others.
But by then, Pavarini had already submitted an invoice seeking payment for $387,596. The invoice is dated April 25, only four days after the contract was awarded.
A project manager for the school district reduced the amount due to $290,683 — half of the $581,365 — and approved payment May 11, records show.
"Four or five people sign invoices like this," Lindner said, but only two have access to the full project file: the project manager and a reviewer in the Capital Budget Department.
The invoice shows that Pavarini had hired a Coral Gables architectural firm, Wolfberg Alvarez & Partners, to design the addition.
Lindner said Pavarini was not entitled to any money because the district never issued a "Notice to Proceed" — a document authorizing companies to begin work. Lindner said he did not know if Pavarini or the architect did any work on the project at all, but if they did without the formal notice "that's on their nickel … not our nickel."
In a letter dated Jan. 25, Lindner asked Pavarini to refund the money. "If they decide not to, then we'll litigate for it," he said.
The district sues architects and contractors for mistakes their firms make on projects, but it can take years to recover the money, if ever.
School Board chairwoman Jennifer Gottlieb said she was unaware of the billing problem with Pavarini. "That's a lot of money," she said. "Apparently something fell through the cracks, and it seems it's a pretty expensive issue."
The payout left others scratching their heads as well.
"Why didn't school district employees check to make sure the project was going to be built before they cut a check of that size?" asked Nick Sakhnovsky, chairman of the school facilities task force. "Doesn't anyone review quarter-of-a-million-dollar checks?"
Megan O'Matz can be reached at momatz@SunSentinel.com or 954-356-4518.