District settles bond-work suit

The Wichita school board voted Monday to accept nearly $1.9 million to settle a lawsuit it filed to pay for repairs made to an addition and renovations at 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 Monday's school board meeting, board members unanimously accepted the settlement.

"We're pleased. ... I think it's in the best interest of the school district," said Richard James of McDonald Tinker, the firm the district hired to handle the lawsuit.

"We wanted to recover the construction costs 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, 1407 S. Broadway.

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

The district blamed structural problems on the placement of holes in the walls to install air conditioning ducts in the original part of the school, built in 1918.

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," said James, the district's attorney. "It is unfortunate that extensive litigation efforts were necessary ... for this to occur."

The district also has filed suit against some of the same companies — PEC and GLMV — over renovations made to Allison Traditional Magnet Middle School. That suit also names Key Construction, the general contractor on the Allison project.

Key counter-sued the district in November, claiming it had been unfairly excluded from a bid list for upcoming bond issue work while the lawsuit wends its way through the courts.

In other business Monday, school leaders proposed changing start times at nine Wichita schools as a cost-cutting measure.

Superintendent John Allison told board members that adjusting the schools' schedules would eliminate the need for 13 buses, saving about $450,000 in transportation and fuel costs.

According to the plan, Northeast Magnet High School and five middle schools — Brooks, Jardine, Allison, Mayberry and Blackbear Bosin Alternative — would start at 7 a.m. They now start at 7:10 or 7:15 a.m.

Start times at three other schools — Sowers, Wells and Greiffenstein — would shift from 7:50 a.m. to 8 a.m.

The change would allow the district to "triple route" buses sent to those schools, Allison said. Triple routing means one bus is used to transport students at each of three start times.

The proposal came during an update on the status of the district's 2011-12 budget. Allison has said a projected $30 million shortfall in state aid is likely to mean job losses and the elimination of programs and services.