Wichita schools settle lawsuit over Hamilton repairs for $1.9 million

The Wichita school board voted tonight to accept nearly $1.9 million to settle a lawsuit it filed to pay for repairs made to Hamilton Middle School.

The lawsuit, filed by the district about a year ago against several engineering and construction firms, claimed shoddy work on Hamilton during a 2000 bond project put the school in danger of collapsing and endangered lives.

Defendants in the lawsuit were: Professional Engineering Consultants, the structural engineering consultant; McCluggage Van Sickle and Perry, which last year merged with Gossen-Livingston Architects to form GLMV; general contractor E.W. Johnson; and subcontractor R&C Professional Services.

Following an executive session at the close of tonight's school board meeting, board members voted unanimously to accept the settlement.

"We're pleased with the settlement. I think it's in the best interest of the school district," said Richard James, the attorney hired by the district to bring the lawsuit.

"We wanted to recover the construction cost to repair the building and make it safe for students, and I believe we've done that with this settlement."

A $7.5 million renovation and addition to Hamilton, which was finished in 2004, rendered the school structurally unsound and violated city codes and national construction standards, the lawsuit claimed.

Students and staff used those parts of the building until December 2008, when gaps in door frames and bulletin boards popping off walls led to further investigation of the building's structure, located at 1407 S. Broadway.

After one year of repairs, Hamilton students returned to the building in January 2010. Some students studied at the nearby, vacant Longfellow Elementary School building during the repairs.

The parties in the lawsuit participated in mediation last week.

The settlement "shows the defendants were finally willing to come forward and do the right thing to resolve this case," James said. "It is unfortunate that extensive litigation efforts were necessary ... for this to occur."