The Star Beacon; Ashtabula, Ohio

Local News

April 19, 2011

Geneva schools sues construction firm

GENEVA —  The Geneva Area City Schools Board of Education has filed a civil lawsuit against Blaze Construction Inc. in an effort to recoup the cost of poor or unfinished construction on the Geneva High School, Common Pleas Court records show.

Geneva Superintendent Mary Zappitelli confirmed the court filing Monday, but declined to comment.

The board has been vocal and public about its problems with the Berea-based Blaze Construction. In 2010, the board announced it would cost as much as $1.3 million to fix problems, including the school’s curtain wall windows, stage doors, courtyard drainage and to repair the metal roofing, insulation and drainage at the front and rear entrances of the building and along the sidewalks, Zappitelli said.

The problems were identified when the building was inspected in 2009, Zappitelli said. The board voted, by “urgent necessity,” in 2009 to have the problems fixed, even bypassing the competitive bidding process to expedite the jobs.

Last year, Zappitelli called the construction expense “significant.”

The cost of the repairs were funded through Classroom Facilities Assistance Program through the Ohio School Facilities Commission , Zappitelli said.

Representatives for Blaze Construction, which is owned by Ferris Kleem, could not be reached for comment Monday. Kleem is also the half owner of Phoenix Cement Inc.

This isn't the first problem the district has had with Blaze Construction. The district threatened to withhold $175,0 00 in payments to the company until issues at the high school were fixed. Blaze workers never fixed the problems and R.P. Carbone project manager Ben Pintabona used a different contractor to finish various Blaze Construction projects on the building.

In addition, the district asked the contractor to repair faulty flooring in the academic wing of the high school. The floor was replaced at no cost to the district, Zappitelli said last year.

Blaze Construction only worked on the high school project and were not used for the new Geneva Platt R. Spencer Elementary construction, Zappitelli said.

Blaze Construction also built Lakeside High School, which opened in 2006. In 2010, the Ashtabula Area City School Board as told it would take $4 million to fix problems resulting from deficient workmanship at the high school. LHS construction problems include sagging gutters, lack of ventilation, corrosion and a leaky warping roof. The OSFC funded the repairs.

Geneva schools isn’t the only district to take Blaze Construction to court. The Jefferson Area Local School District filed a civil action against the company in March 2010 for work done poorly or not completed on the Jefferson junior and senior high schools. That case is set for a telephone conference status meeting on May 31, court records show.

These lawsuits aren’t the worst of Kleem’s problems, the FBI reports. Kleem is awaiting sentencing after he pleaded guilty in Cuyahoga County in a public corruption investigation, according to the U.S. Department of Justice.

Kleem, 51, is charged with conspiracy to commit bribery over programs receiving federal funds, the Cleveland bureau of the FBI reports.

“Specifically, Kleem is charged with giving things of value to Kevin Kelley (a former Cuyahoga County employee and Parma City Schools Board member, who has already pleaded guilty) and to two unnamed public officials in exchange for official acts,” the FBI report shows.

“The things of value included cash, a refrigerator, gaming chips, financing a Las Vegas trip, agreeing to switch some of his employees to a particular managed care organization and hiring a prostitute for one of the unnamed public officials,” the report shows.

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