Bonding firm pays builders

May 01, 1994|By Sherrie Ruhl | Sherrie Ruhl,Sun Staff Writer

A bonding company has taken over payments to subcontractors who are building two Harford County elementary schools, both of which are scheduled to open next fall.

The bonding company for H. A. Harris Co. Inc. of Baltimore, which is building Church Creek Elementary in Belcamp and Emmorton Elementary near Bel Air, has begun paying Harris' subcontractors directly after they complained that they were not being paid, County Executive Eileen M. Rehrmann said Thursday.

"The bonding company is now meeting the financial obligations XTC of the subcontractors working at the two schools," Mrs. Rehrmann said.

The bonding company, St. Paul Seaboard of Towson, did not return several phone calls.

A secretary at Harris said company officials had no comment.

Tom Mason, Harris' Washington attorney, said, "H. A. Harris is not filing for bankruptcy, people are getting paid, and the company is going to pay its bills."

Mr. Mason declined to be more specific or to answer questions about the financial stability of the company.

The school system also refused to provide specific information, including the construction timetable for the two schools.

Despite the apparent financial difficulties of the prime contractor, the school system says both schools will be ready for students when school starts Sept. 7.

Church Creek Elementary had already been delayed for a year when St. Paul Seaboard took over the site from Peter J. Scarpulla Co. of Baltimore -- because of Scarpulla's financial difficulties -- and gave the project to Harris.

Recently, Harris has come under sharp criticism for the leaking roof at Ring Factory Elementary in Bel Air. The school, which Harris built, has had roof leaks since it opened in 1990.

Donald R. Morrison, school spokesman, said Harris should not be faulted for the leaky roof because one of its subcontractors installed the roof.

Because of such problems, Mrs. Rehrmann said she will strongly recommend that the school system hire construction managers to monitor progress at the sites.

"When we [the county] had projects we had to bring in on time and on budget, we used outside construction managers and that worked well," she said.

Those projects included the "Big Inch," a 108-inch diameter pipe the county installed in 1992 to link it to a Baltimore County aqueduct.

Mr. Morrison said, however, that the school system has hired construction managers for Church Creek and Emmorton elementaries -- and it hasn't helped.

"Just because you have on-site supervisors, that doesn't mean they can crack the whip and make things happen," Mr. Morrison said.

Mr. Morrison said Harris has assured the school system that it has an "accelerated work schedule" that will get the schools done on time.

Last year, the school system said Fallston Middle School, built by Triangle Construction, would open on time until a few days before the beginning of school.

The school, which failed a critical fire inspection safety test, opened two weeks late.

Mr. Morrison blamed the delay on the fire marshal who "came in unexpectedly and said certain things had to be done."

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