2 Jeannette officials seek rec center probe
Two Jeannette officials want the city to ask District Attorney John Peck to investigate what happened to $65,000 in public money that was to pay for a new recreation center.
Recreation commission members Joe Yorio and Randy Highlands said they don't understand why city officials haven't asked contractor Tim Bongiorni of Avella, Washington County, what he did with a $65,000 down payment for the building.
“You need to get the DA involved and ask where the money is,” Yorio said.
Peck has said he has jurisdiction to investigate and is waiting for the city to refer the case to his office.
“There needs to be some discussion about that,” Highlands said. “I want to know where the money is.”
City attorney Scott Avolio said Peck's office has offered to investigate, but Avolio wants to wait for Bongiorni to produce the money or the prefabricated building.
Bongiorni met last Friday with Councilman Mark Clark and city engineer Ed Antonacci about revised plans to build a smaller center at a city playground on Agnew Road.
“He just said he'd work with us,” said Clark, who serves on the recreation commission. “He hasn't come up with where the money's at. He's liable for it and said he'll work with us.”
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. The city broke ground for the center in May 2007, but no work has been done on the project since then.
The recreation committee gave Bongiorni the $65,000 as a down payment toward the building. He cashed the check, according to bank documents the city has acquired.
Bongiorni, who was president of now-defunct Quality Sheet Metal Erection, said last week that he ordered the building from another company but can't remember its name.
He said the city never made a second payment or got back to him about their plans for the building. Clark said he will propose to the recreation commission next month that Bongiorni erect a smaller, less expensive building around a basketball court at the Agnew Road park. That plan includes putting a roof over the court, erecting walls and replacing the asphalt court with a hardwood court donated by the Jeannette School District, which is replacing its middle school court.
Antonacci said he proposed that Bongiorni build a 60-by-100, 25-foot-high structure instead of the larger building originally proposed.
“He said he would get numbers for us at the next recreation meeting,” Antonacci said.
Clark's proposal for a 6,000-square-foot building could cost between $30 and $70 per square foot, or $180,000 to $420,000, plus excavation and interior finishing costs, Bongiorni said.
“The problem is some of these costs have increased,” Bongiorni said. “We're going to downsize the building. A lot of things have changed.
“I'll make this thing happen,” he said.
Yorio and Highlands said Clark's proposal to locate the recreation center at the playground is unacceptable.
“Did this guy fall out of a tree?” Yorio said of Clark. “I'm not agreeing to that at all.”
Highlands called the plan “crazy.”
“Are you serious? I don't even know how to respond to that,” he said
A number of questions remain about how the state grant was handled.
Avolio said he's contacted the DCED about the money and told officials “we're still trying to put together a plan.”
The money was given to the Recreation Commission in 2007 but was turned over to the city in 2010. Clark said a committee was created to oversee the project but it fell by the wayside, and no one ever followed up with Bongiorni.
Richard Gazarik is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-830-6292 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.