The Star Beacon; Ashtabula, Ohio

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March 29, 2013

Geneva settles for $1.3 million for construction problems at high school

GENEVA — Blaze Construction will pay $1.3 million to the  Geneva Area City School District to correct construction problems  at Geneva High School, Superintendent Mary Zappitelli said.

“We participated in mediation with Blaze Construction and their subcontractors and Liberty Mutual,” Zappitelli said, “for the high school remediation regarding the costs we and the Ohio School Facilities Commission incurred in making those issues right.”

In 2011, the board of education filed a awsuit against the Berea-based Blaze Construction Inc. in an effort to recoup the cost of poor or unfinished construction at Geneva High School.

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.

The problems were identified when the building was inspected in 2009, Zappitelli said, though the district had previously threatened to withhold $175,000 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.

“We have been dealing with this for almost five years,” she said. “The mediation was a long day, but it was worth the effort.”

Zappitelli said the mediation was successful, and though not every expense to the district was covered, settlement saved the district thousands of dollars in legal fees.

“We reached an agreement for $1.3 million, and while we didn’t recover every dollar we expended, we settled rather than look at spending an additional $200,000 in legal and consulting fees and a possible trial,” she said.

Zappitelli said the legal fees were included in the settlement.

“At the end of the day, we did get enough money to cover the cost of the repairs to the building,” she said.

School board member Ford Behm said he is relieved now that the repairs to the building are complete.

“The good news is that we have all new buildings, the problems are fixed, we recouped most of our costs and we can look ahead to the future,” he said.

Board president David Foote said while he felt there was about $400,000 in repairs that could have been argued at trial, he isn’t upset with a $1.3 million settlement.

“The questions were, you know, was it construction or was it cosmetic? Were these construction issues or issues with building enhancements? But to come away with $1.3 million is a successful mediation, I would say,” he said.

Representatives for Blaze Construction could not be reached for comment Thursday.

Blaze Construction only worked on the high school project and were not used for the other four schools that have been built within the district since then, 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.

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.

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