Trustees updated on roof litigation

LOGO HOUSTON School RAM

HOUSTON – The Houston School Board was updated in executive session on litigation involving its roof at the School of Science and Technology, but lawyers were tight-lipped about details of the case.

On a motion by Trustee Carol Byrne the board entered executive session for roughly 15 minutes with Tupelo attorney Bill Murphree meeting with the board to discuss where the district is with this case.

Murphree, of Mitchell, McNutt & Sams, and attorney Gary Carnathan, of Carnathan & Malski, were hired in June to to handle litigation for the district. Carnathan and Murphree were charged with gathering data and information from the district and its consultants on why a roof installed approximately three years ago has not stopped leaks at the School of Science and Technology, formerly known as the Vo-Tech Center.

“We are in arbitration at this point,” Murphree said after Monday’s executive session. “We had hoped to resolve this short of arbitration.”

The district’s legal battle has named roofing material maker GAF, contractor Copper Top Roofing and project architect Pryor & Morrow.

The district contracted with Copper Top in 2010 to fix the roof at a cost of $240,000. The school board has repeatedly contacted architect Roger Pryor and Copper Top since the roof was installed saying they are not satisfied with the work.

“Arbitration will probably last six to eight weeks,” said Murphree. “At this point we are still pretty far apart.”

Arbitration asks a third party to try and bring the two opposing sides together to agree on a settlement and Murphree said the next step would be mitigation, where the district would be allowed to outline damages it has suffered and hopefully be compensated.

“Mitigation could start sometime after the first of the year,” said Murphree. “The purpose of mediation is to get the two sides closer together. We hope to work something out and we hope there is no trial.”

In August the district budgeted $300,000 for attorney fees for potential litigation to force architects Pryor & Morrow and contractor CopperTop Roofing to repair a leaking roof at the Houston School of Science and Technology. The district has also budgeted $400,000 to repair the roof if litigation fails to get the contractor and architect to fix the roof at the vo-tech center.

Pryor and Copper Top have said the problem is with condensation pans on old air conditioning units and not the roof that was installed.

At a March 2011 meeting Pryor said the type of roof installed does not have a history of failure and he believes it was installed correctly.

Trustees Bart Munlin and Rayburn Parks climbed on and inspected the vo-tech roof in March 2011 to try and find a solution to chronic leaks that have plagued the building.

The district hired NewPath Strategy Consultants in June 2012 to develop a plan to assess and estimate costs for repairing leaks at the Houston Vocational Building and replacing air conditioners.

In April the board met with NewPath in executive session and then voted to have Board Attorney Jimmy Hood send a “strongly worded” letter of notice to all parties responsible for the roof on the School of Science and Technology.

Hood said at that time the district has repeatedly tried to avoid litigation and just wants the roof fixed.

Hood recommended Carnathan and Murphree to handle the district’s legal concerns based on their expertise and specialization in this type litigation.

Trustees have met repeatedly in executive session for almost nine months to talk about how they might go about getting the roof fixed or be reimbursed for work they believe was not done properly.

And the roof continues to leak. Teachers and students were exposed to wet ceiling tiles and puddles in the floor during the last school year.

Houston School Superintendent Dr. Steve Coker told trustees at the June 10 board meeting that who pays to get the roof to stop leaking will influence whether the district pays to fix the roof or repave the driveway around the Houston Middle School and High School. The paving project has been quoted to carry a $125,000 price-tag.

In addition to Byrne, School Board President Bart Munlin and Trustee Thomas Howell were at Monday night’s meeting with Trustee Daniel Heeringa attending via computer-video. Trustee Marvin Beard was absent.

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