Alcoa City Schools plans to sue its high school builders today, seeking $180,000 to cover the costs of water damage in its first year.

The Alcoa Board of Education voted unanimously Tuesday to join the city’s Public Building Authority and its insurance company to file suit in Blount County Circuit Court against the architect, general contractor, engineer and three subcontractors.

The $35 million high school opened in July 2015 and the following June experienced what was described as a “catastrophic leak” that destroyed the gymnasium floor.

The flood from a 3-inch pipe occurred two weeks after the expiration of the one-year general contractor’s warranty on the high school project, and three weeks after a minor leak in the weight room was fixed, according to Barry Brooke, executive vice president of property development and management for the firm LawlerWood LLC, the school board’s project representative.

Despite investigations by several of the companies involved, the exact cause has not been pinpointed, according to John E. Owings, of Owings, Wilson and Coleman, the law firm representing the school board. “There’s a lot of finger pointing,” he said, and no one has stepped up to take responsibility.

Owings expects the discovery stage of the lawsuit to cover design, installation and operation of the the school’s heating and cooling system.

“The leaks involved certain valves,” ACS Director Brian Bell said. Since the valves were removed in 2017, he said, they have had no further problems with leaks or “hammering” of the pipes.

Owings expects to name as defendants in the lawsuit Merit Construction Inc., Lewis Group Architects Inc., Albert F.G. Bedinger Consulting Engineers Inc., ShoffnerKalthoff MES Inc., REA Inc. and AAON Inc.

Lewis Group also is the architect for Alcoa’s planned renovation and addition at its intermediate school, currently on hold for funding.

That building opened in 2002 as the district’s middle school, but cracks began appearing in 2015. Repairs for those problems alone have been estimated at more than $540,000. Brooke has said there were significant deviations between the plans for the school and the way it was built.

During Tuesday’s meeting he told the school board that bids for the Alcoa Intermediate School project were close to an earlier estimate of $22.5 million and could be brought in line with that.

In a year or so, he said, “I can’t tell you what the costs will be.”

When school board members asked about the possible cost of delaying construction, he noted that construction costs have been rising about 5% a year, which would add more than a million dollars to the price tag.

“The economy would have to dramatically change or go down for costs to go down,” Brooke said.

Amy Beth earned her degree from West Virginia. She joined The Daily Times in 2016 on the education beat covering Alcoa, Maryville and Blount County school systems.

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