UPDATE: Is The New McCracken High School Safe?
By Levi Holsapple
PADUCAH, KY - NOTE: This updated story includes response from McCracken Co. School Board
A group of individuals made a presentation to the McCracken County School Board at their meeting Thursday night. After hearing their argument, one might assume that the building could be unsafe. But it may not be the entire story.
Marty Owen was first, and presented numerous documents and evidence against Lamar Construction concerning an iron structure collapse that took place at the new McCracken County High School in May 2011. Owen is a compliance officer with Kentucky Fair Contracting, and monitors construction projects across western Kentucky. His main concern is the safety of the incoming students, and recovering tax payers dollars spent on an insurance policy bought by the board to cover an estimated $478,000 in damage.
The 2011 collapse was initially blamed on a severe storm with high winds, but photos taken right after the collapse show many of the nearby lightweight portable restrooms still standing. A weather history report shows that the wind never exceeded 30 miles per hour when the collapse occurred. Owen provided photos showing what he says are missing welds and bolts, and improper cable bracing on the collapsed structure.
Owen says the work Lamar has performed is not to code, and said he has caught them violating several codes across Kentucky, for which they have been fined numerous times. He encouraged the board to recover expenses incurred, and to deeply examine future subcontractors doing work for the school system.
A second member of the group, Will Randolph, a former employee of Lamar, told the board that most of his training consisted of worksheets that had answers provided on the back. He informed the board about the Worker's Freedom Coalition, which he started to get the company to step up its safety procedures and training programs.
A third presenting member, Dave Baker, who represents Cincinnati Inter-Faith Workers Justice, said the company has had four collapses in the past three years. He shared a Paducah Sun photo showing a Lamar employee welding at the McCracken County site after the collapse. He said no certifications could be found documenting the worker was ever trained or qualified to perform the work. He provided a packet to the board, which included stories of forged documents and uncertified welders working on projects when inspectors weren't around.
The McCracken County Board of Education asked several questions to the group, and stressed that the students' safety is the board's primary concern. Regarding the allegations of the group, a couple of board members discussed contacting A&K Construction about their requirements for subcontractors. One member suggested that if there is doubt about Lamar's reputation, a structural engineer should check the school for structural stability and safety. He added that if needed, the school board should try to recover costs incurred due to the collapse, such as insurance deductibles.
The school board issued a statement Friday, saying they have full confidence in their architect, contractor, and engineering team that designed, built, and inspected the new school, which they assure is up to code. They included a letter from Bacon, Farmer, and Workman, the engineering firm that has inspected the building throughout construction. That letter states, "the buildings at the new high school campus have been designed and constructed to meet or exceed the requirements of the Kentucky and International Building Codes." It continues, "We do not take our responsibilities lightly in this regard, and have closely watched this project from the start."
The school board's statement also said, "McCracken County Public Schools does not accept occupancy of a facility until all inspections are completed, documented, and approved in compliance of all applicable building codes."
Lamar Construction is a contractor involved in structural steel erection, pre-engineered metal building erection, pre-cast concrete erection and maintenance services. Lamar is headquartered in Michigan, with offices in Kentucky and Colorado. The company regularly works on projects across the United States, but its primarily focus is in the midwest.
Lamar has been the target of protests in several midwestern states over the past few years, with similar concerns raised. Lamar President Carl Blauwkamp said last year that attacks on his company’s safety record are decoys for attacks by labor unions that have been unsuccessful in organizing his company's 270 workers. See that article at http://www.mlive.com/business/west-michigan/index.ssf/2012/10/lamar_construction_co_defends.html .