The New York City School Construction Authority has $3 billion to spend every year for the next three years. In the past, that announcement would have gotten the stereotypical New Yorker response from the design and construction industry: "yeah...good luck with that." But today, the industry is raising an eyebrow.

Sharon L. Greenberger is NYC SCA's new headmaster

In fiscal year 2007 which started July 1, 2006, the SCA plans to build 100 new schools, complete more than 2,000 capital improvement projects, invest in science laboratories and auditorium projects in all five boroughs. The capital plan is fully funded, and the money ready to go.

"Given the scale and scope of the work ahead of us, we need to be at the top of our game," says Sharon L. Greenberger, recently appointed president and CEO of the New York City School Construction Authority. In the past, the SCA was not known for even placing in the top five.

Since the agency was created in 1989 to fix the very broken process of building and improving New York City's stock of 1,200 facilities, the SCA's reputation has ebbed and flowed.

For the better part of the last 10 years, contractors across the city did not want to do business with the New York School Construction Authority for a myriad of reasons: slow payment, archaic design guidelines, close-outs that took forever, change orders that weren't processed quickly and many more.

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  • "My Holy Grail horror story was the time that I had a $1.5-million change order on a $3.6-million electrical contract," says Fred Levinson, president, Levinson and Santoro Electric Corp. and current president of the New York City Subcontractor's Trade Association. "I never got a penny of it until the three-year job was complete."

    Levinson says the agency has come a long way. "Do they have their house in order? As well as can be expected given the number of jobs they have to put out and the scope of those projects. It's a very difficult thing to do."

    To improve the project close-out process, the SCA now uses total building commissioning techniques to assure quality and to close out projects more quickly. Communication tools have improved so the entire team can work closely together on speeding along project close-outs.

    To improve the change order process, the SCA now allows project managers to approve changes under $25,000. Changes over $25,000 get negotiated quickly by a change order unit. If the contractor and the SCA can't agree on a price, the SCA issues a unilateral change order that the contractor can bill against until a price is agreed upon, which should not be more than 30 days after the change order is granted. Since the SCA has a contract that requires contractors to execute on change orders whether they be negotiated out or not, this new process helps keep work and money flowing together.

    "One of our biggest complaints in the past was that our change order process took too long" said Chester Yee, vice president project management. "We think this new system addresses that."

    The payment process has improved, Levinson says. Over the summer he had two emergency contracts that had to be complete before school went into session in September. He asked for a payment up front for mobilization, and payment every two weeks, and the SCA did it. "Not only did they do it for my job, they did it for all job," he says. "You can't find another agency that will do that."

    Industry sources credit Sharon Greenberger and Chester Yee for the positive changes at the agency.

    "I'd say the SCA is now the best-run agency in city and state of New York," says Louis J. Coletti, president and CEO of the Building Trades Employers' Association, a group that represents over 1,500 union contractors in the city. His group and the Building and Construction Trades Council were instrumental last year in creating a program labor agreement with the SCA that provides SCA with straight time plus 5 percent labor rates for second and third shift work. In return, all contractors on these projects — even non-union — must use union labor.

    "There's a new sheriff in town," Levinson says. "She's a business person and she understands that things have to flow. I hope she's there a long time — at least until I retire."