City comptroller will investigate demolition contract in Little Italy; Bill from contractor was more than triple the original bid


Baltimore Comptroller Joan M. Pratt said her office will audit a city demolition contract in Little Italy after the Board of Estimates agreed yesterday to pay $47,636 more in overruns, increasing the project cost by more than $1 million.

Mayor Martin O'Malley and City Council President Sheila Dixon asked Pratt to conduct the review of the $427,025 contract to demolish and remove debris from the former Montebello Brands Inc. distillery at 400 S. Central Ave. and an adjacent property at 1205 Bank St. for a city parking lot.

Randy Phipps, owner of the company doing the work, Phipps Construction Contractors Inc., told the city's five-member spending board that the excesses occurred because his company unexpectedly had to remove an additional 4,400 cubic yards of concrete and 1,000 cubic yards of soil contaminated with petroleum.

In addition, the city ordered Phipps to remove and replace the original fill for the parking lot after a city water main broke, flooding the site, he said.

"Everything I did was approved by Public Works," Phipps told the board.

In January 1999, Phipps beat out three other companies for the work, bidding about 41 percent below the city's estimated project cost of $727,500.

Since the project to convert the 70-year-old site into a city parking lot began, Phipps has submitted an additional $1 million in extra work orders for the job, more than tripling the initial bid.

Questions over the contract surfaced two weeks ago after objections to the city payments from Little Italy Community Organization President Roberto Marsili.

A review of project records from the state Department of Environment showed that two visits to the site before the demolition began found no evidence of contamination.

In addition, state officials told contractors before the demolition that all discovery of contaminated soil must be reported to state. Phipps never reported finding polluted soil during the job, state officials said.

O'Malley deferred the latest payment to Phipps for two weeks, asking city Public Works Director George Winfield to review the matter.

Winfield told the board yesterday that his review showed Phipps hired a subcontractor that determined the contaminated material contained 110 parts per million of petroleum products, slightly exceeding the state standard of 100 parts per million.

With the city demolition costs tripling to $1.4 million, O'Malley asked Pratt's office yesterday to review the matter.

C. Edward Hitchcock, Phipps' attorney, said the contractor welcomes the audit.

"We don't mind the audit because Mr. Phipps did exactly what he said," Hitchcock said. "But Mr. Phipps should be paid."

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