The District paid about $60,000 to a contractor to repair a leaky roof at a Southeast Washington elementary school last year, but water keeps pouring in and the third floor of the school was closed off two weeks ago, forcing students to move into makeshift classrooms, according to city and school officials.
"There's a bucket to catch water dripping from the roof in almost every classroom on the third floor," Joyce Jamison, principal of McGogney Elementary School, near Wheeler Road and Mississippi Avenue SE, said during a recent meeting with parents. "We have a more extensive problem now than we had when the roof first needed work. And the problems are worse now because of the contractor."
An official of the firm hired to do the work said the current water problem stems from leaks that existed before his company undertook the job, and that problems with the city bureaucracy made it impossible for his company to do the needed repairs.
The roof problem at McGogney is part of a string of about two dozen faulty construction jobs that since 1982 have cost the D.C. school system nearly $1 million in capital improvement funds and "interrupted the education of thousands of pupils," a school official said last week.
Several companies that were hired and paid by the city to perform major work, such as installing new roofs and science laboratories, have filed for bankruptcy -- as has one company's insurance firm -- and left the projects undone, according to D.C. Board of Education member Wanda Washburn (Ward 3), who heads the board's Buildings and Grounds Committee.
Washburn said that the school system has no direct control over the construction work and that the D.C. Department of Public Works is responsible for selecting and supervising contractors for school projects and for trying to recover damages for faulty work.
In trying to recover the $60,000 paid for the McGogney roof, the department discovered that Eastern Indemnity, an insurance company that backed one of the construction companies, had gone bankrupt. The Rockville-based firm became insolvent more than a year ago and is the subject of more than 60 lawsuits by creditors seeking to recover money they say the firm owes them. The firm's chief executive, Curtis Graham Perkins, disappeared last year and is being sought by authorities.
"When we tried to recover the cost of the project from the Eastern Indemnity Co. of Maryland, which put up the surety insurance bond on the work, we found that Eastern Indemnity went bankrupt, too, said Tara Hamilton, spokeswoman for the Public Works Department.
Until recently, Washburn said, "DPW never paid any attention to our objections to the way projects were completed." She described the way the department has handled school building contracts as "bureaucratic and chaotic."
Washburn said that the department in recent months has attempted to improve communications with the school board but that the construction problems persist.
Hamilton said that she has never seen the school board's list of complaints about shoddy or incomplete workmanship and couldn't comment on it.
The department, headed by John Touchstone, also is supervising construction of a $40 million municipal office building near 14th and U streets NW that has been plagued by serious structural problems and delays.
A top official of Joseph L. Curtis General Contractors, which was paid the $60,000 to fix the McGogney roof, said recently that the company's work was hampered by Public Works Department officials who changed construction plans in the middle of the project and created other delays that caused significant problems.
The top floor of the three-story McGogney school building was closed off after water began streaming through about a dozen holes in the roof, according to Jamison. Water collected around ceiling lights, disrupting classes and creating fire hazards, she said. Many of the 590 students enrolled at the school were reassigned to small rooms, some of which have very limited blackboard space and were intended to house library, art and music classes. Also, four classes for learning disabled students were crowded into two rooms with two teachers each and the school's only computer laboratory, located on the third floor, has been rendered inaccessible.
The Curtis company was hired in 1983 to fix the leaky roof, but by last March it "had not finished the work and the work the company did perform was defective," Hamilton said. The company left the flat roof sagging in the middle and after heavy rainfalls, water would collect, instead of draining off the roof, she said.
In an interview, Joseph L. Curtis, the owner of the company, said that for two years he was prevented from working on the McGogney roof by Public Works Department officials. He denied that his firm did any defective work.
"I don't owe the government any money," he said. "They actually owe me about $120,000."
Hamilton denied Curtis' allegations and said her department terminated its contract with Curtis last May and sent its own workers to "temporarily" remedy the problems on roof. However, the leaks reappeared within months, she said.
When the Public Works Department tried to recover the $60,000 paid to the Curtis company, Hamilton said, "Mr. Curtis told us that his company went bankrupt."
The department now is trying to recoup its money from the D.C. Insurance Guarantee Association, an association of insurance companies that according to the D.C. Code must pay valid claims against bankrupt insurance companies, Hamilton said.
Meanwhile, the Public Works Department last week awarded a $95,000 contract to HR General Maintenance Corp., 2021 Shannon Place SE, to install a new roof because the present one is now unrepairable, Hamilton said.
Since 1982, the department has spent about $1 million on at least 20 construction contracts that resulted in work that was later described by school building inspectors as "poor," "deficient" or "slow," according to school officials.
The most prevalent problems involved roof repairs, Washburn said.
"There's been a ridiculous cycle of bad workmanship and the children are suffering from it," Washburn said. "It's unconscionable. Buildings in disrepair create all kinds of obstacles to the learning process."
Often, contractors hired by the Public Works Department who have done faulty work were hired again to do other jobs, only to produce more bad results, she said.
In recent years, Washburn and other board members have complained to Mayor Marion Barry and D.C. City Council members about leaking roofs and other problems connected with contractors hired by the Public Works Department, but they got little response.
Last month, school board members met with Barry over dinner and requested that he "make every effort to address the immediate capital deficiencies in the school system," Washburn said.
"There are 58 leaking roofs that need repair immediately but if we have to wait one more year, we will have to replace them," she said.
During the dinner, school board members asked Barry to support a request for an emergency capital improvement allocation of $6.3 million to repair the 58 roofs and do a variety of other necessary projects.
Last week, during his State of the District address, Barry said school construction projects are a top priority of his administration. Annette Samuels, the mayor's press secretary, said later that the mayor indicated he would support the request for $6.3 million for the emergency repairs.