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Wage dispute puts hold on zoo project

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by Karen E. Culp

SBJ Staff

A building project at the Dickerson Park Zoo has been placed on hold until officials determine whether to proceed with the project as it is, or to bid the project under prevailing-wage laws.

The Diversity of Life Building at the zoo, a Friends of the Zoo project, would probably have a general contractor assigned to it by now if the project had not been interrupted by state officials. They say the project should pay prevailing wage to those who will build it, said Mike Pentecost, the architect who developed plans for the project.

The project was originally out for bid in early December 1998, and while it was out for bid, a representative from the Missouri Division of Labor Standards asked to review the plans for the project, Pentecost said.

"He basically came in during the bidding, asked to see the specs, and then the Division of Labor looked at it and came back to us and said they didn't want to show up at the ground breaking with a court injunction," Pentecost said.

The project was bid without applying prevailing wage rates because it is a project of the Friends of the Zoo, a private, nonprofit corporation that raises money for zoo projects. The Division of Labor intervened because even though the company putting up the money for the project is private, the division determined that the project fits the definition of a prevailing-wage project as established in a Missouri statute.

"The statute addresses public works projects as those paid for out of public funds or paid for out of private funds for use by a public body, or if the project is for public use or benefit," said Jim Boeckman, assistant director of wage and hour for the Division of Labor.

After researching the project, the Division of Labor determined it should pay prevailing wage, Boeckman said.

"Until we're provided something to the contrary, we have determined that this should be a prevailing-wage job," Boeckman said.

Whether the Friends of the Zoo will re-bid the project using prevailing wage standards, or whether it will simply re-bid it without will be determined by the board of directors for the nonprofit corporation, said Mike Crocker, zoo director.

"It's up to the board at this point. I think the subject will probably come up at one of their upcoming meetings," Crocker said.

Boeckman said the Division of Labor has different sources for determining whether it will investigate a project for prevailing-wage compliance.

"We may get a phone call or inquiry, or we may get a complaint; there are different sources. We also have field investigators who visit sites," Boeckman said.

In the case of the zoo project, Boeckman said, the division received a complaint; the complaints are confidential. The division also received a follow-up call from someone who said the job should not pay prevailing wage, but Boeckman said he needs something in writing "advising why it wouldn't be."

Crocker said the Diversity of Life building will be property of the Friends of the Zoo until it is built, and will then become the Dickerson Park Zoo's property. The zoo has had several Friends of the Zoo projects that have been funded by that organization, several that have been strictly public funds, and some that have been a mix. On those with strictly public or mixed funding, prevailing wage has been paid, but on the Friends of the Zoo projects, prevailing wage has not been paid.

"This issue has never come up before," Crocker said.

The project would have been close to a ground breaking by now if the prevailing wage issue had not come up, he added.

The Diversity of Life Building is a 2,765-square-foot building and would

be about a $280,000 project as it now stands, Pentecost said, but with prevailing wage, it could be as much as $100,000 more.

"I've talked to a lot of people in the building trades, and they say that it is about the norm for prevailing wage to add 35 or 40 percent to a job's cost," Pentecost said.

Boeckman said the Division of Labor could intervene at any point during a project if that project is not paying the wage it should.

"We can come in at the bidding stage, or even after the project is nearing completion, and ask that the workers receive back-compensation for their work on the project," Boeckman said.

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