VIRGINIA— Nearly eight years after the construction of the North Woods and South Ridge schools, the St. Louis County School District may pursue legal action against Johnson Controls International, Kraus-Anderson and Architectural Resources,Inc., the three companies that designed or oversaw the work on the projects.
The two new schools, built at a total cost of about $60 million, were part of a controversial district-wide restructuring plan adopted nearly a decade ago.
At Tuesday’s school board study session, Superintendent Reggie Engebritson told board members she’ll be seeking authorization to obtain legal counsel to seek redress of a long list of deficiencies in the construction of the two buildings.
Engebritson told the board that inspections of the schools last summer yielded structural issues at the facilities, but she said representatives from JCI, Kraus-Anderson, and ARI had not responded in the manner the district expected.
“Nothing has gone anywhere,” Engebritson said.
Engebritson said reporting on the issues by the Timberjay had heightened public awareness of the problems at the schools and that she’s been getting questions from the public about how the district intends to respond.
Last June, the Timberjay reported building inspections had yielded sagging floors which have led to distorted walls and doorways. In some cases, walls were resting on roof trusses, such as in the South Ridge music room.
“Basically, if that roof truss wasn’t there, we would have had major failure, which would have shut that school down for some time,” former facilities director Tony Buccanero told the board during a study session last year. “It’s a brand-new school and we shouldn’t have this happening.”
Business Manager Kim Johnson said the problems at the two campuses were not the fault of the district.
“It’s only been seven years and this shouldn’t be happening,” she said. “It’s either design, structure or testing failure.”
Uneven settling of sidewalks and parking lots have also proven to be a problem, according to school officials. That’s led to substantial cracking of sidewalks at entrances, or potential tripping hazards from uneven sections of sidewalk. The concessions facility at the North Woods School has also faced dramatically uneven settling of the facility’s concrete floor, which has distorted some of the fixtures inside the building.
Questions over sub-standard work on the schools have lingered for years and led to a three-year legal fight between JCI and the Timberjay newspaper over access to the architectural contract that JCI signed with ARI for design of the two schools. The state’s Supreme Court, in a controversial decision, sided with JCI on the issue, but the state Legislature promptly superseded the court’s decision by unanimously approving what is now known as the “Timberjay law,” which clarifies that such contracts are accessible to the public.
In other business at Tuesday’s working session, Johnson offered changes to the 2018-2019 budget for the district after revenues came in about $6.9 million above what was expected. Revenues are now projected at $44.6 million for the year, over the $37.6 million originally forecast.
Johnson said a boost in student enrollment across the district yielded an additional $411,000 to the general fund. Bond sales made up the largest increase, providing $6.5 million.
The increase in revenue has been directed to increasing full-time-equivalent positions in the district. Other monies have been allocated to Indian Ed programs and purchasing of new vehicles for the district.
In other business, the school board:
Heard a presentation from Kristi Berlin about class scheduling for next year.
Heard an update from Board Member Chris Koivisto about the project to update the Northeast Range football field. He said an updated sign for the field was in the works and that he wanted a new roof on the field’s press box.