GORHAM – A Gorham custodial supply company is trying to figure out what it will take to do business with the Gorham School Department.

“I bet I could save the town money,” said Phil Sferes, co-owner of Clean-O-Rama, based in the Gorham Industrial Park.

The matter was aired last week during a Gorham School Committee meeting when Jim Means, a Gorham resident and a volunteer vice chairman of the Gorham Economic Development Corp., went to bat for Clean-O-Rama. At issue is thousands of dollars the school district pays for janitorial supplies and equipment and how vendors are chosen.

Means told the School Committee that competitive bidding for purchases not required by law are required by the School Committee. Means also said if bidding is not utilized, the superintendent can seek requests for proposals.

“We have a local vendor who is not allowed to bid on projects,” Means said.

Means spoke out for the company following an open house he attended about three weeks ago. Clean-O-Rama invited Gorham officials to acquaint themselves with the firm. The group included members of the Gorham Town Council and the Gorham Economic Development Corp., which promotes attracting and retaining businesses in Gorham.

When asked what the town and economic development corporation could do to help it, Means said the company replied, “Please help us to be able to discuss doing business with the Gorham School Department.”

This year, Gorham School Department is spending $67,006.98 in custodial expenditures with a national company, Amsan, according to financial information provided by Norm Justice, director of the Facilities Department for Gorham schools. Since the fiscal year that began July 1, 2007, business between Gorham School Department and Amsan totals $240,162.83.

The spreadsheet information doesn’t show any money paid to Clean-O-Rama by the Gorham School Department for the last two fiscal years.

“The money is going to an out-of-state-firm,” Means said at the School Committee meeting March 14.

Superintendent Ted Sharp said following the meeting that he had not been contacted by Clean-O-Rama.

“No one has ever called me,” he said.

Sferes said this week that historically, the company did well with Gorham schools until the mid-1980s, and now the Gorham company feels blocked and frustrated.

“We want the opportunity to earn the business,” he said.

Clean-O-Rama provides cleaning supplies, equipment, training and repair of cleaning equipment for hospitals, area school districts and universities like Harvard. The family-owned Clean-O-Rama began in 1964 in Little Falls. From another building, it moved to its present location five years ago. It employs 27 people.

The Gorham School Department, according to Justice, has a membership agreement with CleanGreen ScoreReport, which Justice said is a “green cleaning” program. Justice said Gorham signed the agreement in late 2009.

Members agree to buy custodial supplies and equipment from Amsan, which has locations across the country with two in Massachusetts, according to a map on its website.

But the agreement is not binding. “Any member may withdraw from this agreement at any time. We can walk away today,” Justice said.

Clean-O-Rama, Sferes said, also provides environmentally friendly products.

Justice said there is not a requirement that he seek bids for the janitorial supplies, which probably involves “thousands” of items.

And Justice denied that Clean-O-Rama had been shut out. He said a lot of factors go into making decisions where the Gorham School Department buys its products. For example, he cited dispensers in schools for soap and paper products. Gorham schools have dispensers that aren’t compatible with Clean-O-Rama products, he said.

Justice, who previously served in a similar capacity in Scarborough, said, “I worked with Clean-O-Rama for over 25 years. At Scarborough, they had close to all our business.”

Since joining the Gorham School Department, Justice said, he met several times in the fall of 2009 with a sales representative from Clean-O-Rama.

According to information provided by Justice, in the year ending June 30, 2008, Gorham School Department did $12,712 with Clean-O-Rama; $8.915.85 in the fiscal year ending June 30, 2009; and $14,321.85 in the year ending June 30, 2010.

But, Sferes said, about 95 percent of those three figures represented refinishing gym floors.

For fiscal years 2011 and 2012, financial records provided by Justice show Clean-O-Rama had done no business with Gorham School Department.

“This department won’t even spend $1 with us,” Greg Sferes, Phil’s brother, said Monday. “In the last two years, not one penny.”

Phil Sferes said the company hasn’t done any significant business with Gorham schools in 20 years. “We were given the scraps,” he said.

In the past two years, Sferes said, the company reached out nine times to Justice’s office, but had been unable to get past a school department secretary. He said he was told the district had signed a contract. Sferes said Clean-O-Rama didn’t receive a response from Justice to a letter sent last month, requesting a meeting to discuss how Clean-O-Rama could earn some business at Gorham schools.

“We always enjoyed working with you at Scarborough schools. As you know, we haven’t done much with Gorham recently, but are hopeful we can start a new chapter,” Sferes wrote in the letter.

Justice said the letter requested a meeting between March 19 and 30, and he hadn’t responded because he went on vacation after receiving the request.

Sferes said Justice contacted the company Monday and asked to meet jointly with Sferes and Means.

Justice said he met with the Gorham Economic Development Corp. on Wednesday morning.

Means, who has a background in business and was once chairman of the board at Cheverus High School, said there’s real money at stake.

“My object tonight is simple,” he told the School Committee last week. “It’s to work toward a win-win-win outcome – a win for Gorham School Department, Gorham taxpayers, and a local business.”

Philip Sferes, co-owner of Clean-O-Rama, a janitorial supply company in Gorham, wants an opportunity to bid on Gorham School Department business. (Staff photo by Robert Lowell)

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.

filed under: