A government watchdog group says the College of DuPage paid a sign designer hundreds of thousands of dollars as part of two no-bid contracts that refer to her repeatedly as an architect -- even though she isn't one.
But Carla Burkhart of Herricane Graphics insists she never claimed to be an architect. And COD officials say they used boilerplate contracts and one of them included an addendum indicating Burkhart's work wasn't architectural in nature.
In addition, Burkhart says the contracts her West Chicago-based company received were based on merit and not because she sits on the College of DuPage Foundation board, which raises money to increase educational and cultural opportunities for the college community.
"We started doing work at the college long before I was invited to be on the foundation," said Burkhart, who has served on the board since June 2012.
She said Herricane Graphics has been doing work for COD since 2003. But it's the contracts the company received in 2012 and 2014 that have the government watchdog group concerned.
The company got a contract in April 2012 to conduct design services for signs at the college. It received a second contract in June 2014. As part of that deal, the company was listed as both the construction manager and the architect for several sign projects.
The contracts originally totaled less than $200,000, according to board documents. However, vouchers provided by the college to the Edgar County Watchdogs group show Herricane Graphics received $471,086 from the college between April 27, 2012, and Feb. 12, 2015.
Kirk Allen of the Edgar County Watchdogs said both pacts were no-bid contracts. "I think it points to a favoritism of foundation members," he said.
Allen said Burkhart isn't licensed to be an architect. Late last year, he filed a complaint against her with the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation.
The state agency is investigating the complaint.
In a response filed this month to the complaint, the attorney representing Burkhart and Herricane Graphics said his clients "deny that they, individually or jointly, advertised or offered architectural services to the College of DuPage in 2012."
Meanwhile, COD issued a written statement saying the forms Herricane signed with the college in 2012 "are the result of a prior law firm providing boilerplate contract language for many of the school's core construction documents."
"The AIA form was one of several used by the college, at the time, as a basic core contract," the school's statement reads. "The college was advised that it could be effectively applied to several services, including graphic design, as long as it noted exceptions."
In the 2012 contract, an addendum to the document specifically cites exclusions to the work, including "architecture."
However, a similar addendum doesn't exist with a copy of the 2014 contract that the college provided through a Freedom of Information Act request.
School officials said the no-bid contracts that were awarded in 2012 and 2014 were done so "in accordance with the Illinois Public Community College Act." While Burkhart isn't an architect, officials say, she's still providing a professional service.
COD officials said they used Herricane Graphics because they were pleased with the company's work creating campuswide signage.
"As the need for new signage periodically arose, the college would contact the same firm for assistance, simply for the sake of consistency," the statement reads.
Burkhart said her company always provided written proposals to the college for the work it did. For example, she said the 2014 contract was awarded after the college did a request for proposals.
"We just submit the pricing," she said. "If the college awards it to us, they do. If they don't, then they go with whoever else they want to do the work."