Freeholders scrutinizing details of Vine Street School award

Did MagazzuWatch have anything to do with the about-face of the Freeholders, hell bent a few weeks ago on awarding the Vine Street school renovation contract to a Camden County firm that was the highest of the three bids that made it past the first round?

Cumberland County backed off Thursday night naming an architectural firm for its Vine Street School proposal, a $10 million-plus idea to create from a crumbling structure a major office building and a parking garage close to the county courthouse.

In a four-hour meeting, the Board of Freeholders may have opened more questions than they answered in lengthy go-rounds with three firms on a short list for the project. One major disclosure was that third lowest bidder Lammey Giorgio was offered a chance to lower its bid and that it had done so, which upset an attorney for low-bidder TJD Architects of Bridgeton.

I like to think that the questions that we raised from the get-go have had something to do with raising an awareness of the inner-workings of the county freeholder board. This website raised some questions and the mainstream press began to report on more detail on this very expensive project, and the contractors that want to be involved.

Our freeholders need to know that we are watching, and that they no longer have to be beholden to Lou’s every whim. If they begin to think and act from their own conscience, we WILL take notice. They were elected to lead, not follow, and the taxpayers want and deserve responsible leadership.

The freeholders do need to be congratulated on actually digging deeper into the proposals by the developers rather than blindly following Lou’s demands on awarding the project to a Camden County company that has ties to his brand of politics that we at MWatch are uncomfortable with.

As far as the concept of using the school, I am in favor of historic preservation whenever possible. If not possible, I favor developing in a manner keeping with the aesthetics of the surrounding neighborhood. However, I have to wonder of Bridgeton’s historic designations have handcuffed both developers and taxpayers with this particular project? At what extra expense to we go to in order to restore a building that according to some reports is falling apart from the inside out?

One thing I do know – every delay on this project as well as any alternative hurts the prosecutor’s office and its ability to function efficiently. A backlog in the courts creates crowding situations at the jail. In the end, every delay does serve to hit taxpayers in the wallet.

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