OLYMPIA- State Attorney General Christine Gregoire today announced the findings of an extensive investigation that revealed significant problems with the construction of 10 Eastern Washington schools in the last five years.
"Obviously, it's wiser, safer and cheaper to build schools right the first time," said Gregoire "The investigation confirms these problems were not unique or isolated to one or two projects. One thing is clear, schools need more help."
The investigation found a variety of problems including faulty wiring and fire alarm systems, breaches in firewalls, lack of seismic bracing and violation of national and state electrical codes. On-going maintenance problems with ventilating, heating and air conditioning systems also were identified.
In 1994, the Attorney General's Office was asked to investigate construction problems discovered in the Lake Chelan School District for possible criminal violations. Several months later, Governor Lowry agreed that the investigation should be expanded. Ten Eastern Washington school construction projects were selected in Bridgeport, Cle Elum/Roslyn, Colville, Harrington, Okanogan, Royal City and the Spokane School District.
The AG's Office also looked at recent school construction projects in Western Washington but similar problems were not reported by those districts.
Gregoire's office has developed a list of recommendations to help avoid construction problems in the future. The recommendations will be turned over to a special school construction work group appointed by the State Board of Education. The group is composed of members from a variety of interests and agencies and will forward final recommendations to the State Board. The head of the work group is Mary Schwerdtfeger with the State Board of Education.
The investigation report recommends that school districts around the state get more help and guidance in monitoring construction projects. "Smaller districts rarely face multi-million dollar projects so they don¹t have experts on staff needed to effectively monitor construction," Gregoire said.
Based on investigative findings, the AG's office also recommends the state and schools:
- Allow more lead time for the entire construction process.
- Develop and publish a realistic timetable for school facility construction as a guide for all districts.
- Provide more freedom in the bidding process to reject low-bidder contractors that have proved to be unreliable or sub-standard in the past.
Establish more rigorous inspection, monitoring and training systems to ensure compliance with code regulations and strict enforcement of the law.
Senior Assistant Attorney General Greg Canova said the AG's Office declined criminal prosecution because of the lack of evidence that there was any intentional and deliberate deception on the part of those involved. In addition, such evidence would be very difficult to establish because the school construction projects passed local and state inspections. All schools worked with the AG's Office to address and correct these problems.
Olympic Crest Construction, Inc. was hired as an expert consultant to inspect the selected Eastern Washington school projects. Throughout the investigation, the AG's Office briefed school district personnel on any health and safety issues. State funds were made available so the most serious problems could be immediately addressed and corrected.