Contractor blames Jeannette officials for unbuilt recreation center
The contractor hired to build a recreation center for Jeannette in 2007 said it's the city's fault the building never materialized because the second payment was not made.
Tim Bongiorni, president of the now-defunct Quality Sheet Metal Erection in Avella, Washington County, said Monday he was left hanging when city officials didn't follow up with him about their plans for the $85,000 building. Bongiorni said he used a $65,000 state grant as a down payment on the prefabricated building but never took delivery because the city owes him $20,000 more.
“They never came back with the second payment on the building. Jeannette never came close to making the final payments,” he said. “They never paid for it.”
The city received the grant from the state Department of Community and Economic Development in 2005 and planned to build the 10,000-square-foot recreation center on Chambers Avenue to house basketball courts, an indoor track, a kitchen and offices, city officials said. The city broke ground for the center in May 2007, but no work on the project has been done since then.
Jeannette officials on Friday located a canceled check for $65,000 that the city paid Bongiorni through the former National City Bank but said they still have questions about the transaction.
A copy of the check shows it was made out to Quality Sheet Metal Erection and dated June 29, 2007. It was presented to National City by Bongiorni on July 25, 2007.
City Attorney Scott Avolio said the check was endorsed by Bongiorni, his former company, and Corle Building Systems of Imler, Bedford County. But Bongiorni said he never did business with Corle and made a down payment on the building to another company whose name he can't remember.
Bongiorni said he has moved four times since his company closed and is trying to locate his business records.
“We're going to find a way to make this right,” he said. “I don't even actually have the purchase order between me and Jeannette. That's how far behind I am.”
Avolio said Bongiorni “either coughs up the money or a building. I don't see anything criminal as long as they can make good on the $65,000.”
Westmoreland County District Attorney John Peck said he has jurisdiction to investigate if the money cannot be located.
“No one has referred the case to us,” Peck said.
Though the city received the state grant in 2005, it was not deposited until 2007 when then-city Clerk Ron Dinsmore put the money into one of 32 special bank accounts he created. The city closed the account after the check cleared, Avolio said.
Ed Jordan, a spokesman for the DCED, said when a municipality fails to submit a final report on a grant within one year after it is awarded, it is flagged as ineligible for funding until a report is accepted by its auditors.
“If no close-out report is submitted after a certain period of time, the matter is turned over to our legal office for collections,” Jordan said.
The grant was not funded through one of the agency's regular programs but through a Community Redevelopment Program grant obtained by then-state Rep. James Casorio.
CRP grants were successors to the former Walking Around Money grant program that lawmakers used to fund pet projects in their districts. The controversial program was criticized by reformers for its lax oversight because the grants were not subject to the normal DCED reporting requirements.
Avolio said he doubts the city ever filed a closeout report since the project never was completed.
The city has continued to obtain DCED grants despite its failure to submit a closeout report.
Jeannette received more than $133,000 in grants from DCED between 2006 and 2008, according to state records.
The city received $5,000 for a computer system, the police department obtained $20,000 for a new police car, and the fire department received nearly $55,000 to purchase equipment. Jeannette, a city of 9,634, would be hard-pressed to repay the $65,000 grant for the recreation building. It has been teetering on the brink of municipal bankruptcy and has faced being declared a distressed municipality subject to state oversight.
The recreation commission has collected $20,000 in public donations toward completing the project, said member Randy Highlands. That money is accounted for, he said.
Since 2007, Bongiorni said, the cost of a similar building has “gone through the roof” and likely would cost the city even more now.
“It hurt me, too (financially),” he said. “I want to make it right. I'm not trying to run out on anybody.”
Richard Gazarik is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-830-6292 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.