March 3, 2012

Whitfield school system in dispute over new high school floors

They haven’t gone to court yet, but Whitfield County Schools officials are making it plain they may do just that if a nine-month dispute about Coahulla Creek High School’s floors isn’t resolved.

“Right now I’d say we’re in total disagreement, and we’re now working through our attorney almost completely,” said Assistant Superintendent of Operations Richard Schoen. “I’d say it’s likely that we’ll be litigating our differences of the floors at Coahulla Creek.”

The high school was finished over the summer, and about $500,000 owed for construction of the building hasn’t been paid while the disagreement is ongoing, officials said.

Superintendent Danny Hayes said there is evidence of “poor workmanship” throughout the building, but especially in some of the commons areas where footprints are visible in the polished concrete floor.

“That floor out there is not acceptable to me,” Hayes said during a recent Whitfield Board of Education meeting at the school. “When you walk around and see footprints in concrete, that has nothing to do with the concrete. That has to do with the workmanship.”

Because there wasn’t a general contractor assigned to the project, there are several groups involved in the disagreement, Whitfield County Schools spokesman Eric Beavers said. EMJ Construction, which has offices in several locations, including Chattanooga, was awarded a bid for buildings and finishes and put in the floors, school system attorney Stan Hawkins said.

Doug Martin, the executive vice president of EMJ, said he was not sure the company would “characterize it” the way the school system has done. He declined further comment, saying he didn’t want to “deal with this situation through the newspaper.” He did say there were no attorneys for EMJ involved at this point.

Hawkins said he hasn’t seen the floors but plans to do so within the next couple of weeks. He said that while litigation is “always a possibility” it’s too early to know if it will happen.

“(It’s) not an unusual thing in a school construction project of that size for there to be what’s known as an open issue,” he said, referring to the fact the district is withholding some money until the disagreement is settled. “We’re just trying to work through (questions about) did the school district get what it paid for, why and what do we do about it.”

Board of Education Chairman Louis Fordham said the floors are functioning well but “they don’t look good.”

Schoen said officials believe the school system should be compensated enough to cover the cost of fixing them. In addition to many cracks in the floor — which Keith Burran of construction management company M.B. Kahn said is to some extent normal — there are also indentations in some spots.

“Our present opinion is we should be compensated with what we choose to do with those floors,” Schoen said at a recent Board of Education meeting. “We’re more likely to cover the floors than repair the floors and be dissatisfied with their appearance afterwards. That would probably need to be carpet, if we chose to do so, and would be expensive. If that’s the case, then we would expect to be compensated.”

Board member Rodney Lock asked how the footprints got past so many people.

“There were areas of concern all the way through the process, and there is disagreement over why it happened and if what has happened is acceptable according to who you’re talking to,” Schoen said. “I can tell you that our opinion is that they’re not acceptable.”

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