DECATUR — The Decatur School District can sue the subcontractor that installed the new Eisenhower High School athletic field, which has experienced problems with drainage and grass growth in the three years since it was built, after a school board decision Tuesday.
The subcontractor, Missouri-based Nicholas & Associates, managed $23 million worth of updates to Eisenhower's interior and athletic field, according to its website. School Board President Dan Oakes said the approval for the district to pursue litigation came because of a "lack of movement (from Nicholas & Associates). It needs to be brought to a head if we're going to have a good football field next year."
District officials did not specify Tuesday when they might file a lawsuit. Nicholas & Associates did not return a request for comment.
The subcontractor was included in an agreement that the board approved a month ago, which stipulated that the district could negotiate a solution with Nicholas and Decatur-based BLDD Architects without eating up time on the statute of limitations to file a lawsuit. BLDD was the principal contractor in the $76 million renovations to Eisenhower and MacArthur high schools.
The superintendent's office recommended a revision to that agreement, which would remove Nicholas altogether, but the board instead voted to table that decision until next month in order "to provide more transparency, to give (the public) the document if they wished," Oakes said.
It's the fourth such agreement the board has considered since August related to defects in the high school renovations. While the first document was included in materials given to the board members and posted online ahead of the meeting, the next three were not.
Oakes said the board unanimously agreed to table the latest agreement because "we reconsidered the position and decided we'd make (the document) public."
The Herald & Review requested the documents under the Freedom of Information Act on Monday, and received a copy of the tabled agreement before the vote Tuesday.
Eisenhower's field issues are the latest in a series of construction and design defects that have cropped up since the district's $76 million renovations were completed.
Past problems with the renovated buildings include:
- Moisture seeping up through the flooring in the lower level at Eisenhower, requiring the flooring to be taken up and replaced.
- A misplaced delivery driveway that made it difficult for trucks to reach the loading dock. A new driveway was placed in the proper location.
- Tuckpointing at MacArthur that didn't fit into the original renovation budget and had to be put off until 2016.
The renovations won several national and state accolades.
Superintendent Paul Fregeau, who started with the district in July, said he did not consider the number of defects abnormal for construction in schools. "Whenever you have a major project, there's always a couple things that need to be tweaked," he said.
Funding came from a 1 percent education sales tax that Macon County voters approved in November 2010. Those receipts allowed the district to purchase bonds for the project.
The other outstanding issue with both schools involves classroom heating and cooling units. District officials previously said the 130 HVAC units in the classrooms of both high schools were designed without “hot gas reheat,” a feature to control humidity. The school board voted in August and again in December on agreements with contractors to fix the problem.
BLDD agreed in August to pay $25,000 to the district for costs associated with the installation and testing of two units with the missing feature in each building. The units were tested once before school started and were to be tested again with students in the buildings.
Sam Johnson, the design group leader at BLDD for prekindergarten to high school projects, said Monday that the firm was working with the appropriate parties to come to a resolution on who will pay for the hot gas fix. A meeting has not been set, but all sides have agreed to meet within the next 60 days, with the intention of avoiding a lawsuit. He declined to comment further and did not address the board Tuesday.
According to the agreements approved in August and December, the district is also negotiating with two subcontractors involved with the HVAC units: C.M. Engineering, Inc. and Decatur-based King Lar.
A man who answered the phone at C.M. Engineering on Monday declined to give his name or comment. King Lar did not return a request for comment.