July 30, 2008

Goshen Schools Pouring $28,000 into the Ground

By Adam Nussbaum, Goshen News, Ind.

Jul. 30--The Goshen School Corp. is spending $28,000 to correct construction errors a Mishawaka construction contractor promised it would fix, school officials said.

The alleged errors were made by Gibson-Lewis LLC at Prairie View Elementary School, officials said. The school's construction cost $13.2 million and opened in January of 2006. Gibson-Lewis served as the site work contractor. The company did about $1,050,000 of the work, said Superintendent Bruce Stahly.

In a letter given Monday to the Goshen Board of School Trustees, Diane Woodworth, assistant superintendent of educational services, wrote that "several issues that occurred during the site work construction phase" were "contractor errors."

According to Woodworth, the grading, or leveling of the land, was done incorrectly. As a result, the land doesn't drain properly. Water puddles on the parking lots and creates cracks. The water seeps down into the ground, eventually "breaking down the substructure. The whole thing doesn't drain," she said.

The drainage problem becomes a safety problem during the winter, when ice forms on the parking lots, Woodworth said.

The necessary regrading and repaving at Prairie View's schoolyard will cost $55,703. Wightman Petrie, Elkhart, which provided the design engineering at the site, contributed $32,393 toward the cost.

"We don't believe we provided enough info on one area of the plan," said Ken Jones, president of Wightman Petrie. "Therefore we felt it was in the school's best interest to get that taken care of."

The work is being done at Prairie View right now.

Along with the faulty plans, Jones said faulty workmanship was also part of the problem, and Wightman Petrie had nothing to do with that.

"We only provided site design," Jones said. His company did not provide oversight, monitoring or testing. "We weren't even aware there was a problem until almost two years after the fact."

The errors were recognized by the project's architectural firm, Odle McGuire Shook. Woodworth said OMS "was assured by (Gibson-Lewis) that these errors would be addressed and that the issues would be corrected at a subsequent time." Therefore, the school released the contractor's retainage and the contractor was fully paid.

A $49,000 retainage was released in February of 2007, Stahly said. An extra $6,000 was later released.

"That was a mistake," he said. "We should've just waited until spring to see" if the contractor would finish the work.

Woodworth said the school corporation paid Gibson-Lewis because the architectural firm OMS trusted Gibson-Lewis and had "a good working relationship."

In her letter Woodworth wrote that Gibson-Lewis had failed to return numerous phone calls and letters from OMS, and that the only way to get a response could be to take legal action. However, she and Stahly said that in the school corporation's experience, the legal fees could easily exceed the cost of the construction.

Stahly said he hopes the problem can be solved before legal action is necessary.

"Our architects have been the ones trying to contact the contractor, and we are now making that contact and trying to set up a meeting prior to us even considering taking any kind of legal action," he said. "We want to get all the parties in the room. But we want to be fair to the contractor and ... our architect."

Gibson-Lewis was contacted by The Goshen News about the situation but no response has been received.


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