SLED investigates $220M in construction contracts of Horry County schools

Grand Strand

HORRY COUNTY, SC (WBTW) – Horry County School District, under a Freedom of Information Act request, has provided previously unreleased emails concerning the over-budgeted and delayed construction of five schools by one contractor.  

The emails and documents, outlined in a press release to the public on Tuesday, reveal the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division is investigating the district regarding its selection of First Floor Energy Positive as the builder of all five schools.

School officials faced questions about the selection in 2015 when they ignored a consultant’s advice and awarded $220 million in contracts to the company, which submitted the most expensive proposal. PAPR filed the FOIA request in May 2018, seeking the records related to the contracts. 

The district provided more than 10,800 documents to PAPR, which requested emails between First Floor Energy Positive CEO Robbie and school board attorney Keith Powell.

The request specified emails that were before February 26, 2015 and were shared with SLED by school board members or attorneys working on behalf of the school board.

The documents can be accessed here.

According to the SLED agent, the inquiry was assigned to SLED by the South Carolina Attorney General’s Office based on a citizen’s complaint, the district reported in the press release. The complaint was not explained in the district’s release.

According to the release, Ferris and Powell were communicating about the proposed new schools “four months prior to Mr. Ferris’s initial presentation to the board.”

The release also says the, “email conversations between these parties were unknown by the District staff and the Board.”

News 13 obtained those e-mails through a FOIA request. In one e-mail Powell wrote, “the administration doesn’t know anything about this proposal having been requested.

School board members discussed the emails on April 24, 2017 and shared them with SLED the next day.

School board members previously have seen and discussed emails, in closed meetings, between Robbie Ferris, the CEO of First Floor Energy Positive, and Keith Powell, an attorney who worked on behalf of the district. The district had refused to release the emails and other documents, citing “attorney-client privilege.”

A representative for SLED tells News13 there is an open investigation, but it would be inappropriate to discuss the details at this time.

News 13 spoke with school board member Holly Heniford, who said she was interviewed by SLED as a source of information. In regards to the e-mails, she said Robbie Ferris was taking advantage of an opportunity, and wished their attorney had told them about the proposal.

News 13 has reached out to both Mr. Ferris and Mr. Powell, and have yet to hear back.

News13 will provide updates on this story.

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