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COD Foundation board member gets $630,000 in no-bid architecture contracts for signage work

A member of the College of DuPage Foundation Board of Directors has received more than $630,000 in no-bid contracts as an architect – despite not being one.

Carla Burkhart, on the board since 2012, and her graphic design firm, Herricane Graphics, were given contracts in 2012 and 2014 for designing signage worth a total of more than $186,000, according to board documents obtained by the Edgar County Watchdogs group.

Change orders on the two contracts have since hiked the total payments, according to the documents.

The 2012 contract was not awarded through a public bidding process, according to board documents. Requests for bid are usually required for public community colleges for work costing more than $25,000, according to state statute. Details on the 2014 contract were not immediately made available.

There are a few exceptions to that state requirement, including one that allows no-bid contracts for architecture work from firms the college has worked with before. In the board contract for the work, Herricane is repeatedly referred to as an architect.

The college has stood by the contracts, saying in a statement they were boilerplate for many construction documents used by the college and had been modified for the work.

According to legal documents filed March 13 to the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation by a legal representative of Burkhart and Herricane Graphics in response to a complaint filed by the watchdog group, the college included a clause in the 2012 contract specifically excluding the firm from any architecture, survey, construction or structural engineering work, among others.

College officials said in a statement that they had been pleased with Herricane's previous work and that "as the need for new signage periodically arose, the college would contact the same firm for assistance, simply for the sake of consistency."

Burkhart did not respond to requests for comment, though her representation said in its legal documents that Herricane does not "engage in or advertise itself to perform architectural services."

Terry Horstman, spokesman for the Department of Financial and Professional Regulation, said he could not confirm nor deny ongoing investigations into the matter, but said all allegations of impropriety are taken seriously.

Burkhart has worked with the college since 2003, according to a statement from Catherine Brod, executive director of the College of DuPage Foundation.

“Just as with all Foundation board members who are also vendors to the College of DuPage, Carla Burkhart performed professional services for the college long before volunteering to serve on the Foundation board," Brod said.

Several pieces of legislation have been introduced at the state level to look into the college's finances, including one by state Rep. Jeanne Ives, R-Wheaton, earlier this year. The DuPage County State's Attorney's Office has also looked into the financial records of the college, according to media reports.

The college has been in the spotlight for several weeks, brought on by a controversial $762,000 buyout for President Robert Breuder in January and reports that college officials had expensed thousands of dollars in questionable items at the on-campus Waterleaf Restaurant, including meals for trustees and more than $1,000 in alcohol for a trustee Christmas party.

College board chairwoman Erin Birt said in a March 11 memo that the board and staff would be looking into all expenditure and procurement policies.

"It is disheartening that we find ourselves in this situation, and while the academic integrity of the college remains strong, we must take immediate and long-term action that is in the best interest of the school, our students and the community," she wrote.

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