City school board votes to fire facilities chief
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The Pittsburgh Public Schools yesterday said the firing of its facilities chief had nothing to do with his allegations that the district mismanaged a construction project at a Squirrel Hill school.
"This is not a 'whistleblower' case," district Solicitor Ira Weiss said, adding that school board members who suggested otherwise were "misleading" and "inflammatory."
The school board voted 5-3 Wednesday to fire Omar Nabas, 56, who had been facilities chief for five years. No reason was given.
Mark Brentley Sr., Jean Fink and Randall Taylor voted "no." Floyd "Skip" McCrea abstained.
The board also announced the Nov. 1 retirement of Mr. Nabas' boss, operations chief Richard Fellers, one of the district's top officials.
Mr. Weiss said Mr. Fellers' departure, after more than 35 years, was unrelated to Mr. Nabas' termination.
Mr. Fellers, 62, who oversees 930 employees and a budget of about $107 million, said he plans to golf and indulge his interest in the Civil War.
"This is as long as I intended to work with the district," Mr. Fellers said, adding his retirement could come sooner than November if the district increases the cost of retiree health care for those who leave after July 1.
Mr. Brentley called Mr. Nabas a "wonderful employee." Mr. Taylor urged the board to tread carefully because of laws protecting whistleblowers, but Mr. Weiss said "this termination has nothing at all to do" with Mr. Nabas' allegations about mismanagement.
Mr. Nabas late last year provided the board with documents suggesting the district made costly mistakes with an addition and renovation at Pittsburgh Colfax K-8 School.
He said the project initially was projected to cost about $8.2 million and had run more than $3 million over budget. He claimed officials set an overly aggressive construction schedule, ignored his advice to hire a construction manager and encountered delay claims from contractors.
Mr. Nabas, who made about $100,000 a year, said in an interview that he believed his firing was related to his complaints about Colfax and a long-standing conflict with Mr. Fellers.
He said the district cited a charge of driving under the influence and a dispute over a sick day. Court records showed Mr. Nabas, stopped by Churchill police in November 2006, was placed in the Accelerated Rehabilitative Disposition program.
Mr. Fellers said an aggressive construction timetable for Colfax was thrown off kilter by a groundwater problem and lengthy delays getting city permits. In the future, he said, the district intends to use construction managers for any project exceeding $1 million.
The district initially had hoped to have work completed before the start of the current school year. With the building half-finished at that point, Mr. Fellers said, contractors remained at the site and filed "delay claims" for extra pay.
But Mr. Fellers said the project still is under the $13 million initially projected. He said bids came in at about $9 million -- much lower than expected -- and that change orders and delay claims now have pushed costs to about $11 million.
Contractors still have some work to do, and additional change orders are possible, he said.
Mr. Fellers declined to discuss Mr. Nabas, except to say: "Omar did some very good work for the district. It's unfortunate it had to end this way."
First Published January 25, 2008 12:00 am