Wednesday, February 25, 2004

Summit brings in new team, fires architect

By Jennifer Edwards
The Cincinnati Enquirer

HYDE PARK - More than a month after part of Summit Country Day School's main building collapsed during a $10.5 million construction project, a new construction team has taken over, school officials announced Tuesday.

The private Catholic school is keeping the principal contractor, Turner Construction Co., but Turner is bringing in a new team of senior staff headed by an industry veteran who led construction on Paul Brown Stadium to bring it in on time, reads a letter school officials sent Tuesday to Summit parents.

The new team means the new Lower School for pre-school and kindergarten students will resume construction and be ready for the first day of school on Sept. 7, Summit officials said in a news conference Tuesday.

Work stopped after the Jan. 18 collapse, which toppled three stories. No one in the 1,100-student school was injured because it was closed.

"They know they are under the highest level of scrutiny, and we believe they are up to the challenge," the letter says about the new construction team. It was signed by Joseph T. Devlin, head of school, and Mark Bodnar, president of the school's board of trustees.

Summit also has hired Hunt Construction Group, which completed Great American Ball Park, as a full-time program manager to oversee the safety, quality, implementation and coordination of the project.

To insure the proper checks and balances, contractors working on the Summit project will be reviewed by the new team and Summit, the letter reads. And, Summit's independent program manager and safety engineer will have oversight on construction.

"The team is committed to delivering this project safely, on time, on budget and with the quality we expect," Bodnar said. ""We feel we have addressed all safety concerns and are ready to move forward."

Summit will pay none of the additional costs associated with completing the project on time, the letter also states. Turner has guaranteed Summit will be "paid promptly" for all the losses and expenses it incurs related to the collapse, including reconstruction of the main building, lost property and costs for new project team members, the letter states.

Turner and school officials declined to put a price tag on that work but the agreement means the school will not take legal action against Turner.

But on Monday, Summit officials fired the former project architect, Mason firm Voorhis, Slone, Welsh, Crossland Architects Inc., said Tom Gabelman, Summit's construction law attorney.

Gableman and school officials declined late Tuesday to say why the firm was fired, other than to say Summit obviously has lost confidence in it.

Earl Crossland, a partner with the architecture firm, expressed shock Tuesday afternoon to learn from The Cincinnati Enquirer it had been replaced.

"I haven't received any communication on that," he said, declining further comment.

The new project architects, Steed Hammond Paul, worked on projects at Seven Hills School, St. Xavier High School and St. Ursula Villa.

The firing of the architectural firm also means the project's original engineers, who were sub-consultants for the firm, are gone, too, Gabelman said. To replace them, Summit has hired the three new engineering firms called in to investigate the collapse.

The collapse probe still is under way, school officials said, and it is not known when it will wrap up.

Last month, the Enquirer reported that a pre-construction soils report prepared for Summit warned that foundations in the 114-year-old main building needed extra support during construction of an adjacent building.

Cincinnati's top building official, Bill Langevin, has said in a preliminary assessment that excavation for the project was too deep and too close to the foundation of the main building.

Bad weather and a previously undetected difference in the depth of foundations of the portion of the building that collapsed likely contributed to the failure, he said.

Plans submitted to the city for building permits for the construction project, typically drawn up by the project architect and project engineer, do not show different depths in the foundation levels, city records show.

"The elevations of all new construction as well as existing construction typically are noted on the plans," Langevin said Tuesday. "In this case, based upon my limited review of the plans, nothing was noted relative to the change in elevation of the foundation. Someone should have determined the depth of the foundation to preclude exactly what happened."

School reopened last month, with preschool, kindergarten, and high school students attending class off campus. First- through eighth-graders returned to campus in areas separate from the main building.


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