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Governor signs legislation creating state public works "super agency"

Before the summer is out, Ohio will have a new "super agency" in charge of developing all non-highway state public works projects, including state-assisted local schools.

On Monday Governor John Kasich signed H.B. 487, legislation that creates the Ohio Facilities Construction Commission by merging the Office of the State Architect, the Ohio School Facilities Commission and the Ohio Department of Administrative Services' Office of Energy Services.

When the legislation takes effect some time in September, all of the powers and duties of the three merged agencies will be transferred to the OFCC, in essence giving the new agency total authority to hire engineers and architects to design state facilities and contractors to build them.

The Ohio School Facilities Commission will continue to exist as an independent agency within the OFCC, primarily for the purpose of establishing procedures for building local schools that receive state construction dollars and ultimately selecting those local school projects that will receive state funding.

A new executive director of the OFCC will be selected by the three commission members, who are the director of Budget & Management, the director of the Department of Administrative Services and a third member to be named by the governor.

Richard M. Hickman, the current executive director of the schools' commission, is considered to be the leading candidate for the OFCC position.

Sometime in the fourth quarter of the year, the staffs of the three merged agencies are expected to be relocated in new office quarters in downtown Columbus.

The bill signed by Kasich also requires the OFCC and the Ohio Department of Natural Resources to cooperate in a study to determine whether the DNR Division of Engineering also should be consolidated into the new commission.

Kasich used his line-item veto to strike two provisions relating to the creation of the OFCC.

One of the vetoed provisions would have allowed the Ohio Department of Public Safety and Ohio State Highway Patrol to develop and manage their own capital improvement projects.

Kasich noted that just last year the General Assembly adopted legislation to streamline state public works construction law and enable state agencies to use new project delivery systems, such as design/build and construction manager at-risk. "Separating one agency's facility construction needs from this reform process to give it separate authority goes against the spirit and intent of those reforms," he said.

In addition, the governor nixed a provision that would prohibited the OFCC from entering into a design/build or construction manager at-risk contract unless the contract and bond received the approval of the Ohio Attorney General.

In his veto message, Kasich said this provision would give the AG new authority "that could, at the eleventh hour, undo proceedings leading up to a contract award [that] would unnecessarily erode the intent and benefits of these construction reforms . . . ."

He said the provision would transfer ultimate authority for approval of public works projects to the Attorney General – "an authority he has never had in the past."

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