Riverside parents are still steamed Officials aren't sure when construction at school resumes


Riverside parents who wanted to know when construction would resume on their neighborhood elementary school were bitterly disappointed Monday night at their community association meeting.

Donald R. Morrison, school spokesman, promised the community that the 600-student Church Creek Elementary School, at Riverside Parkway and Church Creek Road, would open in time for the start of school next year. But he said he did not know when construction would resume.

About 50 parents packed Riverside's Community Center, seeking answers to problems that have plagued the Belcamp school's construction, which is about 35 percent complete.

In several instances Mr. Morrison and Joseph Licata, the school system's supervisor of construction, declined to answer questions because of potential litigation against the construction firm.

Mr. Morrison said a takeover agreement, which would allow Baltimore-based H. A. Harris Co. to start work on the school, should be signed "in the next couple of days."

He said once the agreement has been signed Harris, which is also building Country Walk Elementary in Bel Air, would have 10 days to begin work at the site.

Peter J. Scarpulla Contractors Inc. stopped construction at the Church Creek site Sept. 10 when its bonding company, St. Paul Seaboard Co. of New Jersey, took over the project. Work began in August 1992.

Scarpulla, also based in Baltimore, said this happened because the firm was experiencing "financial difficulties," which now include the possibility of paying a $1,500 per day penalty for each day the school construction is late. The original completion date was Aug. 15.

At that time, the school system said construction would resume in two weeks.

"We are keeping their feet to the fire," said Mr. Morrison. He said the school system expects to hold Scarpulla and St. Paul Seaboard to the $1,500 a day late penalty.

At the school board's meeting on Monday, board member Ronald Eaton said he has recommended the school system hire an independent engineer to determine whether the work Scarpulla has done is satisfactory.

"There has been some question that the work that has been completed so far, the steel used for the structure, has not been done as specified in the contract," Mr. Eaton said. "We need an outside consultant to take a snapshot of the site and decide what has happened."

At the Riverside community meeting, Mr. Licata said the school system had held back about 10 percent of the funds from Scarpulla to cover most of the penalty which could be assessed. He declined to say how much money that was.

"Scarpulla would have to sue us to recover those funds and I think we are in a very good position" to keep that money, Mr. Licata said.

Many members of the audience criticized the school system's failure to keep construction moving.

Mr. Licata said the school system had hired a management company to supervise Scarpulla but that did not speed the construction process.

"A construction management company can't force the contractor make up time," he told the audience.

Mr. Licata said Scarpulla passed the school system's pre-qualification standards, which included a detailed examination of the firm's financial health.

He said a school board meeting tomorrow would discuss ways to strengthen those procedures. That meeting is at 6 p.m. in the school system's headquarters at 45 E. Gordon St.

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