Lawsuit over roof, floor at Bluffton High may soon head to trial

sbowman@beaufortgazette.comDecember 18, 2013 

FILE: Students stand outside Bluffton High School as school lets out on Dec. 5, 2009.

STAFF PHOTO

A three-year legal battle over roof and floor problems at Bluffton High School may head to trial in February after efforts to reach a settlement failed.

The Beaufort County School District and those it is suing over alleged faulty construction at the school -- including the contractor and architect, and some subcontractors and materials providers -- spent two days last month in mediation. Superintendent Jeffrey Moss said the mediation was unsuccessful.

"There was some back and forth, but nothing was concluded by the mediation," said school board Chairman Bill Evans, who participated in the talks. "A monetary number for the damages couldn't be reached."

The problems include a leaking roof and a floor that separated from the foundation. In several places the vinyl tile floor had bubbled up 3 to 4 inches, former district facilities officer Chris Poe has said.

Evans said the district can identify more than $900,000 it has spent repairing problems at the school since it opened in 2004. He said that amount does not include the costs of legal fees and expert witnesses.

District chief operational services officer Phyllis White would not provide exact numbers of money spent. The expenditure of public funds is a public record, and The Island Packet and Beaufort Gazette have submitted a Freedom of Information Act request for the information.

The district filed suit in May 2010 against the project contractor, Skanska USA Building Inc., and subcontractor Osborn Contract Services Inc. It later amended its complaint to also include architectural firm Watson Tate Savory Liollio Architecture Inc. and contractor Cumming Construction Management Inc.

Skanska, which filed the motion for the February trial, declined to comment Wednesday. Attempts to reach the other companies were unsuccessful.

Skanska has brought several other businesses into the suit through cross claims, alleging they -- not the contractor -- were at fault. There currently are 11 defendants in the suit.

"Several of them have said, 'Yes, there are problems here, but it wasn't us,' " Evans said. "But there is a clear failure on somebody's part. Whether at the design or construction level, it lies with somebody."

The district has had several independent experts -- who will testify as witnesses -- confirm that the problems stem from construction rather than poor maintenance.

The district is asking for actual damages, punitive damages and attorney fees, to be determined at trial.

The district is also in the design phases to build new school -- one of them a high school -- in Bluffton.

Follow reporter Sarah Bowman on Twitter at twitter.com/IPBG_Sarah.

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