PTA fears school roof leak may lead to student injury

March 20, 1994|By Sherrie Ruhl | Sherrie Ruhl,Sun Staff Writer

The PTA president at Ring Factory Elementary in Bel Air said that she's tired of dealing with the 4-year-old-school's leaky roof and that it's only a matter of time before someone is hurt by falling ceiling tiles, a wet floor or soggy computers.

"This has gone on long enough," Carol Ellis told a meeting of the PTA's executive board Tuesday night. "We have complained repeatedly, and the roof still leaks. It has leaked since the school has opened, and the problem is getting worse."

About 15 members of the board attended the meeting, including Principal Stephen L. Hagenbuch.

The board voted unanimously to send the school system a letter asking that the roof be repaired.

Mrs. Ellis said the school advisory committee, which includes members of the business community and local neighborhoods, was sending a similar letter to the school system.

Parents at the meeting, held at Ring Factory, said they wanted to know whether the construction company that built the school, H. A. Harris Inc. of Baltimore, would be liable for the roof's defects.

The Harris company did not return phone calls. A receptionist at Harris said that Andy Barilla, a project manager, was the only one who could respond to reporter's questions and that she did not know how to contact him.

Harris is also building Emmorton Elementary in Bel Air and Church Creek Elementary in Belcamp. Both schools are scheduled to open in the fall.

Debbie Mullen and Jean Armstrong, members of the executive committee, questioned the school system's wisdom in awarding contracts to Harris while the Ring Factory roof still leaks.

Mrs. Ellis said she wants to know where the responsibility lies for the leaking roof.

"Is the problem the fault of the construction company's workmanship or the construction materials used? Maybe it was the architect's design. I want accountability. Our tax dollars should not be spent on faulty work," she said.

Donald R. Morrison, the school spokesman, said Monday that the flat portion of the roof leaked at one time but has been repaired.

However, during a tour of the school Wednesday, Mrs. Ellis and other parents showed Mr. Morrison recent water damage, including missing ceiling tiles in the school's foyer.

About 10 percent of the foyer's tiles were missing because they recently collapsed from the weight of water or they were taken down because they were in danger of falling, according to Mr. Hagenbuch.

Parents also showed Mr. Morrison recent damage in areas covered by the pitched roof, including a classroom and the computer lab.

Mr. Hagenbuch said leaks in the school foyer and computer room are persistent and began before this winter. During some severe rainstorms, he said, buckets are placed in the foyer to collect water.

Ceiling tiles collapsed

During a snow and ice storm in mid-February, soggy ceiling tiles collapsed from the weight of the water in Cathy Cerveny's fifth-grade classroom and destroyed more than $500 of her personal property, including a $130 CD player.No one was in the room at the time.

The school system, which has a $10,000 deductible on its insurance, told Ms. Cerveny she would have to file a claim with her homeowner's insurance company for reimbursement, Mr. Hagenbuch said.

Ms. Cerveny said the greatest loss was teaching materials, including maps, that she had made to teach her students about Colonial America.

"I cried when I saw that was wet. Material possessions don't bother me, but I had spent 30 hours putting together the materials, and the loss of time really upset me," she said.

Mr. Morrison said the damage to Ms. Cerveny's classroom was an isolated incident because ice and snow blocked the gutters, preventing water from running off the roof. The water then seeped under the roof shingles, he said.

He said the school's roof was under a 20-year warranty for materials and workmanship.

The subcontractor admitted, shortly after the school opened in 1991, that the flat part of the roof had been improperly installed, Mr. Morrison said. The subcontractor made repairs in September 1992, but has not been back, Mr. Morrison said.

Mr. Morrison, who did not know the name of the subcontractor, said the leaking roof was Harris' responsibility.

Kathy Carmello, vice president for the Harford County Council of PTAs, blamed the leaking roof on the school system, saying that it almost always chooses the lowest bidder.

"You get what you pay for," said Mrs. Carmello, who has two children at Ring Factory.

In December, the school board unanimously approved a five-point rating scale, which members said should prevent the hiring of incompetent companies.

The rating system evaluates potential bidders on experience, financial background, composition of the building team, safety record and equipment.

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