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Companies working on South Medford High School project dissolve partnership

A project manager and architectural firm hired to work together on a Medford high school construction project have dissolved a corporate partnership to eliminate any appearance of a conflict of interest.

Portland-based Day CPM Services, a project management company, earlier this week bought out Mahlum Architects' interest in the firm for an undisclosed amount.

The two firms had been hired separately by the Medford School District to work on the $82 million South Medford High School new construction project at 1551 Cunningham Ave. The project is part of a $189 million bond package voters approved in November 2006.

A project manager is responsible for oversight of the architect, contractor and subcontractors to ensure the project stays within budget and on time.

"We never believed there was a conflict of interest," said George Amburn,

(see correction note below) vice president of Day CPM. "We wanted to eliminate any perception of a conflict of interest. It's something we've looked at for a long time, and we thought it was in the best interest of both companies."

District officials said they did not ask the firms to do away with their partnership, as they felt Day CPM had shown itself capable of representing clients' interests in past projects.

"We were aware of the business connection between them, and we were comfortable with it," said Medford schools Superintendent Phil Long. "When we did reference checks on them, the clients were happy with their work."

That included the construction of a six-story patient "bed tower" at Rogue Valley Medical Center. Day CPM served as Asante Health System's project manager, overseeing Mahlum and other contractors.

Some school district constituents, however, were uncomfortable with the arrangement and challenged the propriety of it.

The decision to dissolve the partnership between Day and Mahlum is "a clear validation of our concerns and is further proof of the necessity of citizen oversight of the bond construction projects," said Steve Plunk, father of a North Medford High School student.

Plunk, who has repeatedly criticized the district's management of the bond package, called on the board to demand that the two firms draw up a mitigation plan to show how they would avoid any conflict of interest.

"The calls to the board for caution and skepticism when dealing with contractors have not been heard, so it is up to us to be a vigilant partner in what goes on," Plunk said.

The firms' partnership began when Day CPM was founded in 2004.

"This is something that has come up in the past, and there has been an ongoing discussion with the owners on how to confront that perception," Amburn said.

Day CPM and Mahlum shared accounting, administration, marketing, computer support and insurance services. Day CPM also conducted value engineering studies, construction studies and construction administration for Mahlum for a fee.

Day CPM continues to occupy Mahlum offices. However, the project management firm will likely move out of the space as a part of its separation plan, Amburn said.

Reach reporter Paris Achen at 541-776-4459 or pachen@mailtribune.com.

Correction: George Amburn's name was misspelled in the original version of this story. This version has been corrected.