A strict interpretation of Recovery Act rules has halted a pair of renovation projects at Job Corps sites that could have provided learning, work and recreational opportunities for youths at two rural locations, according to a new report from the Labor Department’s Office of Inspector General.
The first project disallowed under Recovery Act regulations was a $118,229 renovation of a swimming pool building at the Earle C. Clements Job Corps Center in a remote and rural area in Morganfield, Ky.
The second was a $4,294 project to improve a miniature golf course at the Old Dominion Job Corps Center in Amherst, Va.
Both renovation projects could have provided training opportunities for youths, specifically the golf course project, which was designed as a “green” building project, directors of the centers said,
But the two projects were flagged as improper by the Office of Inspector General within the U.S. Department of Labor under rules that prohibit Recovery Act money from being used for casinos, zoos, aquariums, pools and golf courses. The actions were included in a new audit titled Recovery Act: OASAM Needs to Ensure that Job Corps Contract Modification Meet Recovery Act Requirements.
OASAM is an acronym for the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Administration and Management within the U.S. Department of Labor.
Repairing the swimming pool wasn’t just about providing a recreational outlet for youths at the center, but also an opportunity for Job Corps participants to get practical experience in facility maintenance, said Billy Cooper, director of the Clements Job Corps Center.
“As is our practice here, we attempt to get whoever the prime contractor is, or the subcontractors, to hire a few of our students to participate in the project to the extent that they have been trained,” Cooper said. “That normally works.”
He said the pool is also used to offer a required swimmer safety course to all of the center’s residents during their first four weeks at the site.
“Every human being needs to know how to swim,” Cooper said. “You never know when you might end up in water above your head and, if you can’t swim, at that point, you’re likely to drown.”
The pool also provides a recreational outlet for youths, especially during hot weather, Cooper said. Workers at the center still take the youths swimming once a month, but they must be driven to the nearest pool, which is 22 miles away at the YMCA in Henderson, Ky.
An operator at the YMCA in Henderson said a onetime guest fee to swim at the facility is $10. Monthly fees are $35. Cooper said he has not analyzed fully the costs of taking youths to Henderson, but he believes it would be cheaper and more convenient if they could swim on site.
Repairs would have been to the heating, air conditioning and lighting systems in the pool building, Cooper said, Still, he said he understood why the renovation was disallowed.
“They were well within their rights to impose such a restriction,” Cooper said of the U.S Department of Labor. “I don’t view [the Recovery Act rules] as overly strict. They’re just the rules and that’s what we have to live by.”
As for the miniature golf course renovation project in Amherst, Va., the center’s management believed it would not be affected by the Recovery Act regulations because it only involved the removal of environmental hazards and safety-related infrastructure deficiencies, not the actual building of a golf course, according to the OIG’s audit.
The project would have been in line with the center’s program on facilities maintenance.
“What we had proposed to do was refurbish the put-put course with material that was green-friendly,” said Danny Grimes, center director at Old Dominion.
“We thought it was a pretty decent project, especially since it would facilitate recreation for the students that attend here,” Grimes said.
But the OIG ruled otherwise.
“The Recovery Act prohibition does not make an exception for the nature of repairs being made to the miniature golf course,” the OIG wrote in the audit.
The OIG did not respond immediately to an inquiry about whether there was any latitude in application of the Recovery Act rules.