One of the major companies involved in the construction of the Proviso Math and Science Academy is now the largest contributor to Proviso High School Dist. 209 board president Chris Welch’s campaign for 7th District State Representative.

Ziolkowski, Porter, Damato and Associates (zpd+a) has contributed $3,000 to Welch’s campaign so far, according to disclosures on record with the Illinois Board of Elections. The company serves as project manager for the construction of the Proviso Math and Science Academy (PMSA) in Forest Park.

They have remained employed despite the construction project exceeding its budget by at least $7 million, as shown by a budget report obtained by the Review in August, 2005.

Welch has vehemently denied receiving kickbacks from Dist. 209 contractors for his state rep campaign, noting that all contributions he has received follow Illinois campaign law. He said that if elected, he would support legislation banning both donations from contractors, as well as legislation to cap campaign contributions at a certain dollar ammount.

“If a bill was put forth that prohibited taking money of that nature, I’d be the first to support it,” he said, noting that his campaign has received money from a wide variety of sources.

“I’ve had people come up to me on the street and just give me $10,” he said.

Welch noted that he has turned down contribution offers from several potential donors, including representatives from the gun industry and the payday loan industry.

According to disclosures filed in December, the campaign has received donations of just under $14,000 so far.

Zpd+a hired consultant Anthony Bruno, who received a finder’s fee from Dist. 209, for locating the PMSA building at 1st Avenue and Roosevelt Road, as a sub-consultant for the construction project. The company also worked alongside Bruno in managing the Melrose Park water project which has become the subject of an ongoing federal investigation.

Bruno also served as project manager for a smaller scale water project in Forest Park.

Members of the Dist. 209 school board including Charles Flowers have objected to the absence of a liquidation clause in the district’s contract with zpd+a, which would have set a deadline for all work to be complete.

In the absence of such a clause, Welch and the board majority have voted at each of the board’s monthly meetings since PMSA opened for a vague motion to “consider ratification of prior actions taken…for the construction management contract for PMSA that is within the guaranteed maximum price of $16.6 million.”

The purchase and renovation of the building that is now home to PMSA was funded by a $40 million bond issue by Dist. 209. The project’s construction cost was budgeted at $16.6 million.

Meanwhile, the incumbent state rep, Karen Yarbrough, has received a series of contributions to her campaign fund directly from Bruno’s company, Illinois Development Services, though the contributions came before Welch had declared his candidacy in the race.

The contributions include a $500 donation in June, 2005, and numerous contributions totaling $1,450 from Illinois Development Services as well as Bruno’s previous company, Gray and Associates, between 2001 and 2004.

Yarbrough said she was originally unaware that Bruno had changed the name of his company, and therefore did not realize the more recent Illinois Development Services contributions were problematic.

“Now we know that’s him, so we’re probably going to be returning his donations,” she said.

Yarbrough said that she does not have a working relationship with Bruno, but has met with him to discuss litigation that was necessary for projects proposed by municipalities in her district.

“It appears every time there’s been a big project in the district, the mayors are the ones who bring him to the table,” she said.