School's opening delayed Fallston Middle fails inspection

Sept. 13 target set

August 25, 1993|By Sherrie Ruhl | Sherrie Ruhl,Staff Writer

Fallston Middle School students will get nearly two weeks more summer vacation because the opening of the building, scheduled for the start of school Monday, has been delayed.

Yesterday, the fire marshal's office said the building, still under construction, did not pass a critical inspection.

The 900-student school is expected to open Sept. 13, nine school days after classes begin in the rest of the Harford County system.

The State Board of Education is expected to give the students a four-day waiver, but students will have to make up the other five days, Board of Education members, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said late yesterday.

The board members said teachers would be asked to give up five in-service days and teach classes on those days. All teachers get 10 in-service days, when they attend staff development sessions, but students get the days off.

Albert F. Seymour, deputy director, said that plan was not official because the school system must first get the approval of the teachers' union, the Harford County Education Association.

Jean R. Thomas, president of the teacher's union, said she had not been told of such a plan.

Until Monday, school officials had insisted that Fallston Middle would open on time, but then were forced to backtrack when Allen L. Ward, a deputy chief state fire marshal and commander of the Northeast Regional Office in Bel Air, said the school had too many fire safety problems.

"There were deficiencies . . . that were too severe to allow the building to be occupied. In our opinion, work to correct the problems could not be completed in time to allow the testing that would be required before the building could open on Monday morning," Mr. Ward said yesterday.

Mr. Ward said fire inspectors found potentially life-threatening problems in seven categories, including the automatic sprinkler system, the fire alarm system and emergency lighting.

Mr. Ward said some parts of the building had yet to be fire-proofed, ceiling tiles were missing and interior doors designed to shut-out smoke in the case of a fire had not yet been installed. Finally, he said, some exits were blocked with construction materials.

Fallston Middle, which is being built for about $10.9 million by Triangle Construction Co. of Hanover, Md., was to have been completed July 15 but was delayed because of bad weather and problems with the contractor, according to Joe Licata, the school system's supervisor of construction.

"In my judgment, the masonry work is the one thing that definitely caused most of the delays on this job," Mr. Licata said. "Instead of hiring a sub-contractor, the general contractor assumed that responsibility. And when there were problems, well, the general contractor could not fire himself."

He said he could not comment in detail on the problems because of potential litigation.

Triangle could not be reached for comment yesterday.

The Triangle contract has a standard $1,500-per-day fine for every day the school is not completed, Mr. Licata said.

But he said it's unclear how many days Triangle could actually be fined.

He said the contract excuses the contractor for delays caused by bad weather or other "acts of God," or because of owner-caused delays that might hold up permits.

"It's hard to say what the final penalty will be, because there could be excusable delays and non-excusable delays," Mr. Licata said. "We've decided to save the shouting and yelling until after the building is occupied, and then we will see where we are."

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