Reading Massachusetts Education


The Ten Taxpayer Complaint (by 22 Reading Taxpayers) over Reading's failure to follow State bid laws (designer selection statutes) in hiring the architectural firm Flansburgh & Associates for two elementary school projects (The New Elementary School and, eventually, the Alice Barrows Elementary School renovation).

At times, these Flansburgh projects have been described as one single project (usually for purposes of funding) or considered to be two separate projects, according to the ever-changing "needs" of Reading school officials and special interest groups. For the purposes of the following explanation, they will be collectively referred to as the project(s).

The Social Law Library's summary [.pdf 24.5 KB] of the Ten Taxpayer Complaint widely available on the Internet is not entirely accurate.

In layman's terms...

The Reading School Department (under Superintendent Harry Harutunian) allowed Flansburgh & Associates to prematurely work, under an illegal "time and materials" contract from January to August 2000, on full design services for the new elementary school project(s). This work occurred throughout the duration of the Ten Taxpayer Complaint, earning the architectural firm nearly $500,000 in design work fees.

Reading school officials "ran up the bill" to the Town by allowing Flansburgh Associates to continue to work on the project(s) without a proper contract. They did this, presumably, with the expectation that once they "got the ball rolling" it would become progressively harder and harder to stop the project(s).

Indeed, this expenditure for architectural designs was the deciding factor in the judge's decision not to issue an injunction that would force the Town to lawfully repost for designer services for the school construction project(s).

The judge believed that a temporary injunction, reposting and bidding would require the Town to pay again the amount of architectural costs if another architect were hired to do the same design services as Flansburgh Associates. The judge also was concerned that "construction might be delayed and design costs may increase" since the State will only reimburse communities for plans by the architect of record (the architect whose work is actually used in the project). The judge was not aware that, while Flansburgh allegedly had earned approximately $500,000 for these design services, at the time only $21,000 of Flansburgh's invoices had been submitted to the Town for payment.

The amount of those invoices were withheld from the court. Those fees were eventually used by the Harutunian administration to justify a "hardship" for the Town and as "evidence" to argue that it was not in the Town's best interests to be forced to comply with the Designer Selection Statue.

Flansburgh's contract with Reading was not executed until August 29, 2000, during the waiting period on the Plaintiff's motion for a preliminary injunction.

Essentially, if the Town of Reading had been forced to comply with the Designer Selection Statue, Flansburgh Associates, not the Town, would have been liable for their $500,000 of designer work fees because Flansburgh Associates chose to do the work without a legal, signed contract.

Reading school officials...

a.) opened the door for Flansburgh Associates and gave them the "in" they needed to secure the new elementary school project(s).

b.) defended Flansburgh Associates when Reading citizens questioned the fairness and validity of the bidding process.

c.) saved Flansburgh Associates from having to swallow the $500,000 worth of work done prematurely, without a proper contract.

d.) saved Flansburgh Associates from losing the multi-million dollar project(s) to other architectural firms.

The 22 taxpayers in the case believed that it was in the Town of Reading's best interests to have a fair, open and honest competition, with all designers on an equal footing for the elementary school project(s). The Reading School Department's awarding of an illegal "time and materials" contract to Flansburgh Associates, allowing them to begin design work before a proper Central Register Posting was conducted, raised serious questions about the integrity of the selection procedure and eroded public confidence in the procurement system.

Unknown to the 22 Taxpayers at that time, a second, separate lawsuit concerning the new elementary school and Department of Environmental Protection issues did force new elementary school design work to "cease and desist" as of December 18, 2000. As a result of THAT litigation, construction of Reading's new elementary school (the Dividence Road / Sunset Rock school) was delayed for 2 years.


School Building Assistance - SBA - Massachusetts Department of Education Christine Lynch Deposition [.pdf download, 9.60 MB] - Provides insight into the process of bringing a school project before SBA for funding--the "real deal" versus what all too often is claimed to be SBA requirements. The Lynch deposition was given in conjunction with the Ten Taxpayer Complaint over Reading's failure to follow the bid laws in hiring architect Earl R. Flansburgh & Associates (Flansburgh Associates) for elementary school projects.

The 09/15/00 Deposition of Harry Harutunian now in a searchable .pdf format (223 KB)!

Harry Harutunian Deposition [.pdf download, 3.49 MB] - Superintendent Harutunian at his most "forgetful" and evasive.

When a superintendent consistently "can't recall" basic information about his own school system, one has to wonder: is the superintendent in question incompetent... or deceptive?

See also:

Affidavit of Harry K. Harutunan [.pdf, 75.7 KB]

Supplemental Affidavit of Harry K. Harutunian [.pdf, 139 KB]

Affidavit of Sidney R. Bowen III [.pdf, 150 KB] - Principal, Flansburgh Associates

Affidavit of Russell Graham [.pdf, 46.8 KB] - Chairman, Reading School Building Committee

Not The First Time
As early as August 27, 1998, 5th ranked Flansburgh Associates was hired by the Reading School Building Committee to do work for the Reading School Department without a signed contract. The absence of a contract for an earlier $50,000 elementary school feasibility study (facilities report, which finally materialized the day before Flansburgh submitted complete schematic designs to SBA on March 1, 2000) was discovered only after the Ten Taxpayer Complaint litigation over Reading's failure to follow the bid laws in hiring architect Flansburgh Associates for elementary school projects in 2000.

In a letter to 02/26/02 letter to Laura Mooney re: elementary projects [.pdf download, 20.4 KB], Superintendent Harutunian admits that: "there has never been a signed copy of the feasibility study contract for the new elementary school."