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Contractor Challenge Won’t Delay deChabert Demolition

V.I. Superior Court Judge Douglas Brady has allowed the V.I. Housing Authority to move forward with the demolition of the former Ralph deChabert Housing Community despite a challenge filed by a losing bidder.

The crumbling former housing complex has been vacant since 2003, the V.I. Housing Authority board was told Wednesday.

The VIHA board approved the site for “demolition and disposition” in June 2013. A year later, V.I. Housing Authority Executive Director Robert Graham said funding for the project had been awarded by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. Last June, Graham told the board he expected to soon bring to the board two resolutions for approval: one for architectural and engineering services that would help prepare the site for demolition, and a second for the actual demolition.

HUD’s funding was to be obligated within a year and completely spent within two years, which Graham said the authority should be able to do.

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The first of the two resolutions was approved by the board during its December meeting, with the contract for the demolition going to RG Engineering. According to officials, seven bids for the project were received, ranging in price from $4.4 million to nearly $8 million. The scope of work includes the demolition of 45 residential units, one community building, a water tower and all other structures on the site.

During a meeting Wednesday on St. Thomas, however, newly appointed board attorney Adriane J. Dudley explained that Marco St. Croix, one of the losing bidders, had challenged the contract award. About two weeks ago he filed a request preliminary injunctive relief and a stay that would, if granted, prevent RG Engineering from proceeding.

In a ruling that came out Friday, Brady said he had “systematically disposed of” each argument and found in favor of the authority. Most importantly, Dudley said, the judge ruled that while VIHA was a locally entity, it was not subject to the supervision of the U.S. Small Business Administration, which she said would have given the authority difficulty in awarding bids in the future, had the decision been reversed.

“Emergency funding that was approved for the project, had it not been spent by the deadline imposed, could have been lost, and the court found that it was an emergency, finding that granting the injunction would cause irreparable damage to the Housing Authority,” Dudley said.

The authority was awarded a $4.2 million in federal emergency capital grant funds for the demolition, and will take the remaining $366,255 from a fiscal year 2014 capital fund grant award. According to officials, it would have cost the authority more than $64 million to build the development back up to federal standards.

Graham has said the buildings on the site have continued to deteriorate over the years and there is now even greater liability for the authority. Illegal dumping, drug and gang related crime and the continued presence of children using the land as a playground have increased. He added Wednesday that because of the court’s ruling, the authority was able to move forward on the contract with RG Engineering and, pending the approval of major Coastal Zone Management and storm water prevention plan permits, a schedule should be provided to the contractor by the next board meeting.

Also Wednesday, the board approved changes to its bylaws that will allow members to meet and vote electronically and to talk over the phone between meetings. This will allow, for example, the board to look at emergency declarations or other important documents when they are not in session.

Dudley told the board the existing bylaws were decades old and needed to be updated.

The revised bylaws also lay out the duties of the executive director and other members, focusing on members’ and officials’ “code of conduct and professional ethics.”

The board also discussed getting an accurate financial picture of back rent owed by tenants. Each quarter the board votes to write-off certain “amounts in arrears,” but board members said there is still an effort to collect what’s owed, They asked for a report on what percentage of the write-offs had been collected.

Editor’s note: This story was edited after posting to correct the name of the judge. The Source regrets the error.

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V.I. Superior Court Judge Douglas Brady has allowed the V.I. Housing Authority to move forward with the demolition of the former Ralph deChabert Housing Community despite a challenge filed by a losing bidder.

The crumbling former housing complex has been vacant since 2003, the V.I. Housing Authority board was told Wednesday.

The VIHA board approved the site for “demolition and disposition” in June 2013. A year later, V.I. Housing Authority Executive Director Robert Graham said funding for the project had been awarded by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. Last June, Graham told the board he expected to soon bring to the board two resolutions for approval: one for architectural and engineering services that would help prepare the site for demolition, and a second for the actual demolition.

HUD's funding was to be obligated within a year and completely spent within two years, which Graham said the authority should be able to do.

The first of the two resolutions was approved by the board during its December meeting, with the contract for the demolition going to RG Engineering. According to officials, seven bids for the project were received, ranging in price from $4.4 million to nearly $8 million. The scope of work includes the demolition of 45 residential units, one community building, a water tower and all other structures on the site.

During a meeting Wednesday on St. Thomas, however, newly appointed board attorney Adriane J. Dudley explained that Marco St. Croix, one of the losing bidders, had challenged the contract award. About two weeks ago he filed a request preliminary injunctive relief and a stay that would, if granted, prevent RG Engineering from proceeding.

In a ruling that came out Friday, Brady said he had “systematically disposed of” each argument and found in favor of the authority. Most importantly, Dudley said, the judge ruled that while VIHA was a locally entity, it was not subject to the supervision of the U.S. Small Business Administration, which she said would have given the authority difficulty in awarding bids in the future, had the decision been reversed.

“Emergency funding that was approved for the project, had it not been spent by the deadline imposed, could have been lost, and the court found that it was an emergency, finding that granting the injunction would cause irreparable damage to the Housing Authority,” Dudley said.

The authority was awarded a $4.2 million in federal emergency capital grant funds for the demolition, and will take the remaining $366,255 from a fiscal year 2014 capital fund grant award. According to officials, it would have cost the authority more than $64 million to build the development back up to federal standards.

Graham has said the buildings on the site have continued to deteriorate over the years and there is now even greater liability for the authority. Illegal dumping, drug and gang related crime and the continued presence of children using the land as a playground have increased. He added Wednesday that because of the court’s ruling, the authority was able to move forward on the contract with RG Engineering and, pending the approval of major Coastal Zone Management and storm water prevention plan permits, a schedule should be provided to the contractor by the next board meeting.

Also Wednesday, the board approved changes to its bylaws that will allow members to meet and vote electronically and to talk over the phone between meetings. This will allow, for example, the board to look at emergency declarations or other important documents when they are not in session.

Dudley told the board the existing bylaws were decades old and needed to be updated.

The revised bylaws also lay out the duties of the executive director and other members, focusing on members’ and officials’ “code of conduct and professional ethics.”

The board also discussed getting an accurate financial picture of back rent owed by tenants. Each quarter the board votes to write-off certain “amounts in arrears,” but board members said there is still an effort to collect what’s owed, They asked for a report on what percentage of the write-offs had been collected.

Editor's note: This story was edited after posting to correct the name of the judge. The Source regrets the error.