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School district seeking $5.4 million for Woodward work

"Two days at the mediation table have left the Bainbridge Island School District still holding the bag for an estimated $5.4 million in repairs to Woodward Middle School – half the building’s original construction cost.Formal mediation sessions Sept. 29 and Nov. 8 failed to determine who is responsible for poor construction that led to extensive water damage at the school – or who will pay how much to fix it – according to school board president Bruce Weiland.Although Weiland would not confirm the estimate for repairs, documents provided to the Review by sources close to the talks show that the district is seeking a settlement of $5.4 million, well above the $1.1 million spent to fix the school so far.With a year of talks and two mediation sessions under its belt, will the district file suit to recover damages? Weiland and other district officials say yes – but have said that for more than a year.“If we do not finish with a definite, clear agreement in principle, I would almost guarantee that we will file a lawsuit,” Weiland said on Sept. 30, four days after the first mediation session. But district officials came away from that session with an agreement to mediate again Nov. 8, and to file suit only if that session did not solve the issues. It did not, but to date they have not begun any litigation.“Our lawyers tell us they are in productive talks,” Weiland told the Review in a Nov. 24 interview. Those “productive talks” are more substantive than earlier “productive talks,” he said.“The first phase (of talks) was spent hiring the best experts we could find to get a full perspective,” Weiland said. “The second period was us making presentations and sharing information with the parties responsible. We had to educate them to what the problems were before we could bring them to the table with litigation.“Finally we have moved into the really substantive discussions in just the last two months, and are at a point where we are optimistic there could be a settlement relatively soon.” “Soon” is relative, he admitted.“We can’t guarantee a drop-dead date, but we are close to ‘no further patience’ on that subject,” Weiland said. But late this week there was no change in the status of negotiations, he confirmed.The main parties in negotiations are Merit Construction Company of Tacoma, which built the school in 1993-94; URS Consultants, which acted as project managers for the district; and Northwest Architectural Company, which designed the building and established specifications for materials used.Many of the more than two dozen subcontractors brought in by Merit are also involved. In August 1997, only two and a half years after the school opened, extensive water damage and fungal growth was found in walls throughout the building, posing a health hazard to students and faculty. The Home and Family Life room, at the east end of the building, had to be closed for more than a year. In fall 1998, the district made repairs to that wing, but put off repairs in the rest of the building until costs could be recovered from the outfits involved in the original construction.In a document filed as part of the mediation, a school district attorney described a building badly constructed and extensively damaged by the elements and resulting mold growth.“Woodward’s exterior, or ‘building envelope,’ is grossly failing, because (1) water is leaking into the stucco and CMU (concrete block) cladding systems at multiple locations, including virtually every window intersection, and (2) the cladding systems and their lack of flashings are failing to adequately ‘shed’ the water,” the report stated.“As a result, a substantial amount of water has been leaking into the wall cavities throughout the school. The consequences of these failures are premature structural decay and the widespread presence of unacceptable fungal growth (mold) within the walls of the school. Substantial parts of the wall structure are literally black with mold, saturated with water, and crumbling.”The document summarized the damage to Woodward as extensive and severe. Officials also emphasized the urgency of completing repairs to the school to avoid future health hazards to students and faculty:“...It is the unanimous view of the school district’s consultants that the defects in the building’s envelope, if left unremedied, will in the near future result in the same conditions that forced the school district to close the Home and Family Life classroom,” the document states, continuing: “Our witnesses will testify that in the worst spots, the three-year-old walls of the school were black with mold and decay and literally crumbled in (workers’) hands, that the continued growth of mold is certain, and that any mold is toxic (and) intolerable to school children and others who use the building.” The specific problems for which the district is seeking damages, according to the document, fall into four categories: l Deficiencies in exterior walls, windows installed and caulked improperly, and stucco improperly applied, without appropriate drainage or protective “flashings.” Concrete lintels were not sealed, allowing water in around the edges. Only one layer of building paper was applied instead of the specified two. Oriented Strand Board (OSB) was substituted for plywood and acted like a sponge, absorbing and holding water inside the walls. l Deficiencies in low-slope roof: Flashings were not cut, attached or sealed properly. Drainage is inadequate, allowing “ponding” around the mechanical units installed on top of the roof, and drains are not large enough.l Deficiencies in steep-slope roof: There is no vapor barrier or proper ventilation, and other materials were not applied according to specification. One section of the “roof membrane” is sliding out of position.l Structural deficiencies: The petition noted that many structural deficiencies were found during the 1998 repairs on the east end of the building, but details were not listed in the petition. The district has put $1.1 million into repairs already, including costs for investigating, testing and monitoring air quality, and reconstructing the eastern end of the school. The mediation document indicates that the district estimates repairs on the remaining portion of the building will cost $4.25 million, and continued air quality monitoring at $75,000. The original contract for building Woodward was $9.9 million, awarded to Merit Co. in August 1993. Substantial completion was in November 1994, four months later than the contracted date.In November, 1995, the district resolved a dispute over additional cost of materials, some due to district changes, through mediation with Merit Co. They agreed to a final construction cost of $10.7 million, and the district accepted the building “as is, except for latent defects.” In the mediation document, the district contended that latent defects are “hidden or concealed defects which are not discoverable by reasonable and customary inspection.” The damage at Woodward constitutes latent defects and therefore not the responsibility of the district, the petition said.“Litigation is a politically viable and arguably preferable action,” the petition said, “given the substantial publicity this problem has received in the Bainbridge Island community.”"

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