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    Bishop: Contractor to forgo $50,000

    The bishop writes that his friend will not bill the church for any of the $50,000 in his contract for a new high school.

    By CHUCK MURPHY and SHARON TUBBS
    © St. Petersburg Times
    published May 22, 2002


    ST. PETERSBURG -- A contractor who received a series of Catholic construction jobs does not intend to seek a $50,000 fee for representing Bishop Robert N. Lynch in meetings on building a new high school.

    In a letter sent to church leaders, Lynch wrote that contractor David S. Herman has not requested any of the additional money the Diocese of St. Petersburg agreed to pay him for acting both as independent contractor and diocese representative on the construction of a new Pasco County Catholic high school.

    "When Richard Kolhoff was hired as director of construction in January 2002, David Herman initiated a request to remove that $50,000 from his contract," Lynch wrote in the letter. "David Herman has not and does not intend to bill the diocese for any part of that $50,000."

    The letter was sent to monsignors and priests at parishes in the five-county diocese Friday, the same day a story in the St. Petersburg Times reported that Herman's company had received every contract over which Lynch exercised sole control since 1996. Among those contracts is one to manage construction of the $22-million Bishop McLaughlin High School, the largest single project ever undertaken by the Diocese of St. Petersburg.

    Framed by Lynch as "talking points you may wish to share with your parishioners this week," the letter does not say the contract provision granting Herman an additional $50,000 on the high school project has been rescinded. A second letter has been mailed to donors to Lynch's $60-million capital campaign and will be released by the diocese later this week.

    The disclosure that Herman had received $30-million in diocesan construction work without facing any competition from other companies has prompted several donors to reconsider their pledges to the diocese's $60-million capital fundraising drive.

    Al Frick, a 51-year-old computer consultant from New Tampa, said he will continue to contribute to the upkeep of his church, St. Mark the Evangelist. But he said he is withholding his donations for diocesan projects "until we're comfortable the right decisions are being made."

    "The church is facing an overriding crisis in management," Frick said. "I think the problem is the church sees this as a legal issue. What they don't understand is it's really a trust issue. . . . If they don't give us some assurance (that) they're going to spend it wisely, they're going to stop getting donations."

    Lynch first met Herman in 1995 when Herman's father's company was building a school at Lynch's parish in Broward County.

    After talking on occasion and developing a friendship over a couple of years, Lynch proposed that Herman move to Tampa to build a new media center at St. Petersburg Catholic High School. Herman moved to Tampa and built the media center, then was given contracts to do partial renovations and additions at that school and Clearwater Central Catholic. He also was awarded contracts to build new offices for the diocese and the new high school.

    Herman's company faced no competition from established local contractors on any of those jobs. In an interview last week, Lynch said he and Herman were friends and had traveled together both domestically and overseas. The bishop said he was personally involved in selecting Herman or communicating his preference for Herman's company on each of those jobs.

    In the letter, Lynch calls the Times story "incomplete and misleading" and points out that other companies have won millions in no-bid contracts during his tenure, which began in 1996. Yet there still was competition for the work in most of those cases. Nearly all of those contracts cited in the letter were awarded after more than one contractor was interviewed by a pastor or building committee, and a decision was made on who would do the best job at the best price.

    In an interview last week, Herman said he had attempted to win a couple of parish contracts in the diocese but lost to other companies after the interview process.

    "I'm not an interviewer," Herman said. "I went up there by myself because I didn't know any better. And I just sat down and talked to them. My strong point is not presentations."

    In the letter, Lynch also defends the 10 percent fee Herman is receiving for the high school job -- a payment which could amount to $1.9-million if the school costs the guaranteed maximum in construction management fees. The 10 percent fee is considerably more than public high school districts pay for construction management, but Lynch said it is not out of line compared with fees paid to other construction companies working on church projects.

    "The bottom line is that the diocese pays all companies ten percent or more for their work," Lynch wrote.

    In the letter, Lynch also disagreed with comparisons made between the estimated cost per square foot for the new Catholic high school and the cost of Mitchell High School, a Pasco public school built to the south of the new Catholic project.

    Mitchell High cost Pasco County $84.02 per square foot for construction and management, while the new Catholic high school will cost as much as $97.15 per square foot for the same tasks.

    But Lynch said in his letter that Mitchell High does not have an auditorium or complete athletic fields, features that can add to the cost per square foot of a school.

    "McLaughlin High School was to be built as a 'state of the arts' high school that includes an auditorium (usually the most expensive facility on the campus), athletic facilities, a chapel, a performing arts center with full theatrical lighting and sound; and technology for wireless computer access in all buildings," Lynch wrote.

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