Making Sure Construction Projects Go as Planned

By Charles K. Trainor

Providing oversight for a school’s construction or expansion is a daunting challenge for most board members because the process is fraught with pitfalls. In an effort to improve the bottom line, contractors may take shortcuts, not hire qualified workers, or allow fraudulent practices such as the use of inferior materials or payment of bribes to officials.

This results in significant hazards for children. And it presents a particular risk for school districts.

Several years ago in Homosassa, Fla., an anonymous tipster revealed severe problems with a newly constructed cafeteria stage in an elementary school. A 500-pound, 35-foot-long steel beam was so poorly attached to the wall that it was in danger of collapsing onto the new stage. Also, problems were found with the roof in the new media center. The district hired a testing laboratory to inspect the projects and the problems were subsequently corrected, significantly adding to the job’s cost.

This past fall, the day before classes were to start in Lake Huntington, N.Y., officials had to brace the second floor of a high school with support posts due to cracking floors. The high school, which opened in 2003, had a more serious problem. Due to delays that left construction behind schedule, the contractor substituted a substandard topping material on the pre-cast concrete floor, thus weakening the flooring system.

Specifications were ignored, the contractor said, because it was easier and quicker to work with the alternative material. The outcome, however, may have been very dangerous.

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