At a VI Next Generation Network board meeting Friday morning, staff reported progress on the territory’s $117 million federally funded technological upgrade on several fronts, including approving numerous contracts and selecting a candidate to fill the agency’s top position.
Alfred Boschulte has been serving as interim CEO and president since October when the board fired Julito Francis from the job after the US Commerce Department put a freeze on funding because of slow progress. The freeze was lifted after the territory submitted a corrective action plan.
Boschulte said Friday that a search for a permanent CEO netted many candidates, and there were “intensive discussions” with four of them. After going into executive session to discuss personnel, legal and financial matters, the board voted unanimously to authorize Boschulte to negotiate an actual contract with an unnamed candidate. He told reporters after the meeting that the candidate is a local person, the salary will be in the range of what Francis was getting, which was $170,000, and he is hopeful a contract can be completed “within the next couple of weeks.”
The board also authorized Boschulte to complete contract negotiations with several contractors who have been selected to build the first six of what will eventually be more than 40 “FAPs,” or Fiber Access Points throughout the territory. Board member Peter Schultz described them as concrete housings for equipment. The contractors are Rumina Construction, Balbo Construction, Apex Construction, AT Construction (for two FAPs) and J. Benton Construction. The amounts range from $160,835 to $233,001, with variances due to site conditions.
In his status report to the board, Boschulte said the agency already has encumbered more than $21.6 million in purchasing fiber optic cable and other equipment and on contracts for construction, training and other services. That figure will soon reach $63.6 million.
He and Lorna Thomas, chief administrative officer, reported there are ongoing discussions concerning sites for personal computer centers. While the amount of money involved for the pcc’s is relatively low, about six or seven percent of the total, the impact on the community will be great, Boschulte said.
Far more costly is excavation and trenching work, which is estimated at $25 million. Fiber optic splicing and pulling is estimated at $2 million.
Gov. John deJongh, who chaired the meeting, asked if those jobs are likely to go to local companies. The administration is counting on the project to create a substantial number of jobs in the construction and start-up phase – as well as to open the territory up to new businesses in the long term. Splicing and pulling requires skilled labor, and he asked if the government can provide training for it.
Schultz said there are groups in the states that do offer such training; “It’s a one week course.” He estimated 80 percent of the jobs could be filled locally.
Thomas proposed holding a contractor conference to encourage bidding on the various contracts. Response has not been great so far, and Boschulte attributed that in part to the complexity of some of the RFPs and in part to the difficulty of contractors obtaining performance bonds.
Boschulte said more planning is needed for the interface with the VI Water and Power Authority, and WAPA chief Hugo Hodge, a board member, said he will assign someone to be the contact.
All the board members were present for the meeting: deJongh, Boschulte, Hodge, Schultz, Keith O’Neale, and, via phone, Douglas Whitehead.