A firm associated with former Pittsburgh Housing Authority employee Gabriel S. Fontana has been hired to do site demolition and reconstruction work related to that agency, including some that was competitively bid, some that was not, and some that was awarded through a process that has raised questions in the razing industry.
Fontana, who left the authority in 2003 following a Post-Gazette story about his 1998 guilty plea for conspiracy to sell cocaine and money laundering, is associated with a company that last year won a three-year, $1.6 million contract to train and supervise residents who will tend the authority's grounds. That company, Pittsburgh Property Maintenance, was incorporated nine days before it bid on the contract.
Fontana's demolition company, Three Rivers Dismantlement, was incorporated Oct. 31, 2011. It has done a handful of private demolition jobs since then, according to Bureau of Building Inspection online records.
Three Rivers Dismantlement has become involved in at least three Housing Authority jobs.
The first, a $117,750 contract to reconstruct a collapsed hillside in Homewood North, was competitively bid in a process that started in August, and Three Rivers Dismantlement was by far the lowest bidder. The second, for which the firm was paid $19,000 to replace a failed 8-inch water shut-off valve at Northview Heights, was awarded over the winter on an emergency basis with just Three Rivers Dismantlement's bid.
"We wanted to make sure the residents were safe," said Kim Detrick, the authority's procurement director since October, explaining the one-bid process.
It appears that Three Rivers Dismantlement's biggest job came to it through a process that has some competitors puzzled.
Three Rivers Dismantlement is handling much of the razing of Addison Terrace, a 734-unit community that will be replaced with around 400 mixed-income apartments. The authority has hired Columbus, Ohio-based developer Keith B. Key Enterprises to transform and run the community.
The prime demolition contractor, Phase One Development Corp. of Penn Hills, hired Three Rivers Dismantlement as its subcontractor. Executives at three of the largest area demolition firms -- Noralco, PRISM Response and Bristol Environmental -- said this week that they were not invited to bid on the job.
Developer Mr. Key explained in an email that Phase One got the job because of their ranking in a proposal process conducted by the authority in 2010.
That's when the authority sought proposals from firms to perform "demolition work ... housing authority-wide on an as-needed basis." A resolution approved by the authority board in October does not mention Addison Terrace, but allows the authority to pay Phase One $3 million over three years. The resolution indicated that 12-year-old Phase One was picked over three other firms "based on their experience and capacity."
Steve Cioppa of Phase One declined to say how much his firm was being paid for the work, or how much it was paying to Three Rivers Dismantlement. He said he did not advertise the availability of the subcontract but did solicit bids from several firms, and Three Rivers Dismantlement's was the lowest.
Fontana declined comment.
A. Fulton Meachem Jr., who headed the authority until he left for a similar job in Charlotte, N.C., was not available for comment, according to his spokeswoman.
Several firms that did not put in proposals on the general, authoritywide demolition contract in 2010 said they would have bid to raze Addison Terrace, had that job been advertised.
"Oh, definitely," said Odell Minniefield, vice president of Jadell Minniefield Construction Services, of North Versailles. "We've been doing demolition for quite some time now, and every project we've ever bid on is competitive, public bid. All of them."
Fontana worked for the authority, in its modernization and development unit, from 2001 through 2003.
The Post-Gazette on Monday reported that fledgling Pittsburgh Property Maintenance was paid $77,835 for a fraction of a season's grounds work last year, but would be expected to earn around $500,000 for a full lawn care season. Authority community affairs officer Michelle Jackson said Friday that the firm is hiring residents, who would earn $12.50 per hour.
Laborers Local 373, which represents around 34 authority workers whose duties previously included grass cutting and other grounds care, has filed a grievance claiming that contracting out the grounds work violates their contract.
Rich Lord: firstname.lastname@example.org, 412-263-1542 or Twitter @richelord