FAMU and firm feud


Premier Construction and Development, Inc., officials said they were blindsided by Florida A&M’s Board of Trustees’ decision to terminate the contract for the Polkinghorne Village dorm project. They also questioned university officials’ account of why the project is now at a stand still.

The project’s construction began in May 2012. During this month, foundations for both the east and west buildings were completed, totaling about $2 million. However, the site is now largely deserted.

“Our schedule mandated that the subcontractors had to work six days (per week),” said Steve Ghazvini, the president of Premier, during an interview at the project’s site. “We had no option. As time went by, it actually turned to be a seven day a week project.  The atmosphere was stop and go.” 

Added Steve Hancock, Premier’s construction manager, the company was “making unbelievable progress” in early 2012, the start of the project. 

During the two-hour interview on Friday, Premier officials discussed the project, which has been beset with problems for years. From March to June 2012, however, there was no set project budget due to lack of funding. According to Premier’s timeline of the project’s activities and events, from April to June 2012, bid meetings and openings were repeatedly cancelled and postponed for lack of funds. Ghazvini said over 100 working subcontractors had “no confidence” in the project during this time. On July 11, bonds were released for the project. Six packages were bid on June 14 and the remaining packages were bid June 21. 

Premier officials said it told FAMU it would be difficult, and more expensive, to build the dorms by summer 2013. It also said FAMU whittled the seven-acre project’s time from 18 months to 16, and finally down to 12. That would have increased the cost by 20-25 percent.

“If you have to do the same amount of work in a short time, the people have to include overtime,” Ghazvini said.

According to the same timeline of events, Premier officials said FAMU increased the budget to $41.5 million from the initial estimated $34.7 million budget on July 12, after being presented with four options, one of which was $34.7 million and the other $41.5 million. 

compression,” including extending the completion date and constructing the project in phases. According to a memorandum to the BOT from Premier, FAMU rejected the other options and wanted to proceed with the $41.5 million budget.

In an Aug. 20 email from Christopher T. McRae of McRae & Metcalf Attorneys at Law, the firm representing Premier, to Avery D. McKnight, FAMU’s general counsel, Premier presented strategies to “reduce cost impact from schedule 

At that point, Premier believed this to be the agreed-upon budget.

“FAMU was very much, by that time, aware of every bid,” Ghazvini said. “They asked us to give them some options. We presented them with four options.” 

Masonry and hollow core plank work, authorized by FAMU, was completed by July 25 for nearly $1 million. The draft of gross maximum price (GMP) #4 to complete the project was sent to Premier from Joe Bakker, then associate vice president of construction and facilities management, on July 26. It also states that $41.5 million “now represents the amount of the project GMP as well as the new owner’s budget.” 

The month of August, however, is when the facts get fuzzy.

Another draft of GMP #4, with an Aug. 9, 2013, completion date, was sent to FAMU.

Premier officials said they agreed with the budget. Bakker, Sam Houston, FAMU’s director of facilities planning and construction, and Hancock, Premier’s construction manager, finalized GMP #4 during a conference call on Aug. 9 and Premier sent the final GMP #4 to FAMU. 

However, he university offered a conflicting account of what happened.

In a Sept. 5 email from Guy S. Haggard of  the firm representing the BOT, “the budget was calculated by, determined by, recommended by and agreed to by Premier” and that the company repeatedly confirmed the project budget was $34.7 million. It also said Premier officials presented FAMU with “four unsatisfactory alternatives,” one being the option Premier officials said FAMU chose. The email said FAMU wasn’t satisfied with the alternatives and “never agreed to any increase of the $34,650,000 budget.” Ghazvini denied that happening. 

The email said the board sent a contract termination letter to Premier officials on Aug. 28 due to non-agreement. It also said the board “formally rejected” GMP #4 as it surpassed the agreed-upon amount. The email also said “FAMU’s staff met numerous times with Premier, both before and again in the days after the board meeting, to attempt to resolve the impasse on the GMP, but Premier either could not or would not build the project within the agreed-upon budget.”

Premier officials want to know which meeting the impasse was discussed, as they weren’t present. They were never made aware of any disagreement and believed to be on the same page as FAMU. That, until they heard “through the grapevine” the university wished to no longer work with them because of an unresolved budget and concerns of completing the project within the designated time frame.

“We have sent letters to (the BOT), anything that we thought was valuable information,” Ghazvini said. “I can tell you the BOT has provided us with very little to no information, or incorrect information. As of Aug. 10, we were in total agreement. Don’t you need two people to be at an impasse?”

Premier is also puzzled as to when a budget of “around $48 (million)” was presented to the university, as stated in the Sept. 5 email. It also wants to know that if there was, in fact, an impasse on the project’s budget, why would FAMU fund Premier with another nearly $1 million to continue construction. Ghazvini said FAMU chose to increase the budget and reduce some of the project’s features.

“I don’t know what happened,” Hancock said. “It feels like we got the rug pulled from under us.”

Ghazvini and Hancock said they, and the rest of the company, are willing to go under oath to discuss aspects of the project. They are adamant that FAMU chose and accepted the budget. The memorandum said Premier “would not have taken on the additional liability of beginning construction” if there was any issue over the budget. 

“We still took on the task because FAMU needed the dormitories,” Ghazvini said. He said FAMU was looking to “retire” Cropper and Wheatley halls, but they will now remain open until the project’s completion.

FAMU’s Chief Communications Officer Sharon Saunders replied to an email on Sept. 30 requesting a response to conflicting accounts by FAMU and Premier, saying FAMU was “working on a response” and in contact with its general counsel. The Famuan has not yet received this response.

Premier officials want to know the reasoning behind its contract termination. According to the memorandum, FAMU intends to rebid the project with a budget over $40 million and an 18-month completion schedule. They said they are “willing and committed” to completing the project within a reasonable time period. However, Ghazvini said he isn’t sure if Premier will rebid on the project. 

“Everybody in our organization is already willing to go under oath,” Ghazvini said. “All we’re asking is that FAMU do the same thing. The facts are the facts.”

A “non-binding” contract mediation meeting is set for Oct. 17.