Burlon D. Boone, chief engineer for the D.C. schools, first suspected there was a serious problem with school construction and repair in 1982 when the city had to spend $700,000 to replace a two-year-old roof on the Fort Lincoln Elementary School and then the replacement roof began to leak.
He saw further evidence the following year, when two contractors in succession went out of business in the middle of a job to repair the roof at Ballou High School, leaving an insurance company that underwrote the project to finish the work 11 months late.
By December 1984, with a newly installed gymnasium roof at McKinley High School sliding from its moorings and parents complaining that their children were getting hurt slipping on a rain-wet floor below, the D.C. Board of Education had formally protested the handling of school repair and construction to City Administrator Thomas Downs, touching off a controversy that has yet to be resolved.
The board complained in a three-page letter that the D.C. Department of Public Works, which is in charge of construction and repair contracts for the schools, repeatedly selected contractors who took too long to finish the work, performed poorly or in some cases went bankrupt without finishing the job.
School officials recently said Public Works has botched the handling of nearly 30 projects worth about $7.8 million -- about one fifth of the projects done between 1982 and 1984. Yesterday, Public Works officials acknowledged that about four contractors had failed to perform up to standards on recent school projects, but said they are satisfied with the majority of contractors hired.
"I've got signatures from the D.C. public schools on 21 of those jobs confirming that they had been completed on time," said Harold Henson, administrator of the Public Works Department's repair branch.
Andrew Weeks, the director of the school system's division of buildings and grounds, said yesterday that it's true his subordinates approved most of the work, but that was before the problems with the workmanship became evident.
School officials said they are particularly angry about roofing projects at Fort Lincoln and McKinley High in Northeast and Ballou High School in Southeast, which were awarded to three related contractors.
Horace Jones, acting assistant director of public works, said the firm of Roubin and Janeiro Inc. "should not have been selected" to repair the Fort Lincoln roof, a job estimated to cost $700,000, because the firm specializes in paving roads, not roofing buildings. But Jones said his department had no choice because Roubin and Janeiro submitted the lowest bid.
Angel Roubin, president of Roubin and Janeiro, declined to comment on the job.
Willis Creasey, a former president of National Restoration Co., said Roubin turned the job over to his firm, which he described as closely tied to Roubin and Janeiro.
Boone said the firm had to redo a substantial part of the work and that the roof has continued to leak after the contractor finished the job, more than a year behind schedule. Creasey acknowledged that after National Restoration's first effort to install the roof, "It leaked worse than it did when we started working."
But he blamed the leaks on the materials that he said Public Works required the firm to use, rather than poor workmanship.
Jones said that despite the problems, he considered the contractor's overall performance satisfactory.
The Fort Lincoln roof was not yet completed when Public Works awarded another $113,000 job to National Restoration to repair the Ballou High School roof. Jones said he was unaware of the connection between Roubin and Janeiro and National Restoration and did not realize that National Restoration had done the work at Fort Lincoln.
National Restoration went out of business, Boone said, after workers had drilled holes in the roofing slab that let in enough water to "practically wash out the cafeteria." He said the school system had to pay to replace the cafeteria's floor tile.
Henson said Hartford Insurance Group, which had insured National Restoration, hired a second contractor to complete the work, but that firm also went bankrupt before the work was completed.
Public Works hired Perdomo and Associates Inc., another firm with close ties to Roubin and Janeiro, to repair the McKinley high school roof. Contract documents show that Perdomo was the only firm to respond to the city's newspaper advertisement for bidders.
Eduardo Perdomo, president of Perdomo & Associates, said he sold 49 percent of the stock in his company to Richard and Jose Roubin, sons of Angel Roubin, in 1982, but plans to buy the stock back soon.
The main problems with the job involved the roof over the gymnasium, which Boone said "folded up like an accordion," allowing water into the building.
Perdomo said in an interview last week that "the workmanship could have been better on part of the roof." But he said the workers for the firm corrected the errors at no charge to the city as soon as they received the complaints.
He also said poor specifications from the department contributed to the problem.
The McKinley roof still leaks, but it is unclear from contract records whether the roofing contractor or a separate firm hired to do remodeling work at the school may have been responsible.
Public Works records show that the agency rated the firm's overall performance on the job as satisfactory, but noted that careful consideration be given before awarding the firm another contract.
Despite that warning, public works officials awarded Perdomo another contract this year, worth about $780,000, to replace oil burners in school buildings. Perdomo said the department had complained that he did not finish the work on time but he blamed city officials for the delays