For the second time within the last five years, the school district's architect has resigned. The most recent one, Ralph Ottaiano, tendered his resignation on Oct. 13, after working on the facilities plan for the past three and a half years. He informed the board that he will finish the capital projects that he's currently working on. The architect who preceded Mr. Ottaiano, John Grillo, resigned in November of 1996.
When reached for comment, Mr. Ottaiano said, "For the past three years, I have devoted an enormous amount of time and resources to assisting the Port Washington School District in planning a major bond issue. In view of the district's efforts to seek assistance from supposedly "more qualified" architectural firms, I have decided to withdraw from any further participation in the bond issue development efforts and to refocus my talents and efforts on those clients who respect and have confidence in my firm's capabilities."
Board President Richard Sussman advised that a committee of himself and board member Julie Meyers will review the Requests for Proposals from architects. Then, they will select a few finalists, who will be asked to prepare a sketch and a floor plan for one project. After that, the candidates will be winnowed down to about three or four. Then, the entire board will interview and finally select one.
Commenting on the resignation, Board President Richard Sussman said, "This will set back our time frame for the facilities plan. But we will move forward."
Former district architect John Grillo quit at a board meeting in November of 1996, after an altercation with Mr. Sussman. As reported in the Nov. 7, 1996 issue of the Port News, Mr. Sussman, then a board member, questioned Mr. Grillo on the specifications of a bid to repair the Daly School roof. Mr. Sussman claimed that the bid could have discouraged bidders given a clause regarding substitute similar products for those specified or "equals." According to Mr. Sussman, bidders needed to bear the expense for the architect to examine "equal" products before the bid could be submitted to the district, a practice he claimed most bidders wouldn't do. Later on in the discussion, Mr.Sussman charged that two recently approved bids were "sole source" contracts, which he said were illegal as they discourage the bidding competition.
Mr. Grillo said, "My reputation is on the line." Reportedly the then school board attorney Carol Hoffman was asked to assess the legality of the bid and she said that she saw nothing improper.
Candy Rossettie, who was then the president of the school board, commented after the meeting, "he continued to assert that the bids were illegal even after the lawyer told him otherwise."
Mr. Sussman responded, "It is the responsibility of the school board members to ask questions. I think John Grillo was one of the better architects that this district has had but if he's going to write specs like that I don't want him."
Speaking off the record, residents expressed concern that the school district would have trouble attracting quality firms if it gets a reputation for being an unpleasant place to work.
One regular BOE meeting attendee echoed the sentiments of a few others. "I'm surprised Ottaiano didn't quit a long time ago because of the abuse he took from certain board members. I was ashamed to be part of this community after witnessing the way some members of the board treated him."