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Board considers paying Russo more for Holiday Park project

| Wednesday, Dec. 18, 2013, 9:00 p.m.
Lillian DeDomenic | For the Plum Advance Leader
Tour of the construction site for the new Pivik Elementary School with Dennis Russo. Russo explains where the 'bad soil' was found, how they had to move it and where it will eventually be distributed....this was the reason for the recent change order request.

Dennis Russo is the Plum School District's go-to guy on everything construction related.

The district is paying Russo Construction Services of Plum $9,800 a month to manage the construction of the new Holiday Park Elementary School at the site of the former Adlai Stevenson Elementary. Russo owns the firm.

The Plum School Board during its meeting this past Tuesday night was expected to consider paying Russo an additional $63,000 to manage the project for 14 months.

The building is a two-story, 75,000-square-foot structure that is expected to be completed by February 2015.

“It is my cost,” Russo told board members last week during a facilities committee meeting.

Russo said he needs the additional money because his firm will take on more management duties and might even need to hire additional personnel.

Russo said the duties stem from the project going to multiple prime contractors as the district was directed by the Pennsylvania School Code rather than with one prime contractor.

Russo said the prime or general contractor on the Pivik Elementary School project — Nello Construction of Canonsburg — managed the other contractors and performed clerical duties associated with the job.

Board members in November voted to approve four contracts totaling nearly $15.2 million for general construction, plumbing and fire protection, heating, ventilation and air conditioning and electrical work.

Russo said he will be required to do the work and needs to hire a couple of employees to assist him.

“It changes the scope,” Russo said. “The work has become four-fold.”

Russo said he determined after doing some research that his actual cost to coordinate the contractors and manage the project is $86,000. But he decided to cut the cost down.

“I think it is more than fair.”

Board member Richard Zucco said after seeing construction-related problems that have occurred in other school buildings prior to Russo's work with the district, he supports paying Russo the extra money to manage the Holiday Park Elementary projects.

Board President Sal Colella said he would prefer to see the district pay Russo less than the $63,000 he requested.

“The fees are a little high,” Colella said.

Russo said he hasn't charged the district extra money for other work he has performed.

District officials have turned to Russo on a variety of building-related decisions, including whether to do a restoration or replacement of the high school roof and how to fix the Center Elementary cafeteria floor.

Russo's company also is managing the $70 million elementary center construction project in the Penn Hills School District.

Former Plum School Board President Andrew Drake, who last month lost his re-election bid, said Russo's request is “more than reasonable.”

Drake said officials and Russo talked about the potential for renegotiating his contract if the project was awarded to multiple prime contractors.

“The risk resides with the board,” Drake said last week during the board's finance committee meeting.

“If the contractors all point at each other (in the event a problem arises during construction), we need a strong management team.”

Karen Zapf is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-856-7400, ext. 8753, or

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