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Architect for school is fired


An article in yesterday's Anne Arundel edition of The Sun on the Solley Elementary School project incorrectly stated the number of architects on staff at the Anne Arundel County school system. There are two.

The Sun regrets the error.

The Anne Arundel County school system has fired the architect for the Solley Elementary School construction project because of blueprint errors that have pushed the job more than 30 days behind schedule.

Rodell Phaire, director of planning and school construction, said Probst Mason Inc. of Baltimore had been paid $417,000 before the county took action. The company had been working on a $568,000 contract.

"It is unusual to fire an architect," Mr. Phaire said. "But there were significant problems with dimensions. We discovered them when we had difficulties in the field laying the building out."

Those problems included air conditioning and heating units that wouldn't fit into the space architects had allotted.

Joseph H. Mason, a Probst Mason partner, disputed the contention that there were problems with his company's drawings or that his firm had been fired. "Any time a set of drawings is produced there are questions. We work them out and move on. That's exactly what's happening at Solley," he said. "We are working at Solley now. We are on the job, and we have been."

Mr. Phaire said Probst Mason was brought back to answer the questions of Whiting Turner Inc., the company awarded a $429,000 no-bid contract to redo the drawings.

Once Whiting Turner goes through the drawings, the school system must pay TGMI Contractors of Cockeysville, which is building the school, an additional fee for speeding up work to be sure the school is finished in time for the fall semester. The amount has not been determined, Mr. Phaire said.

The project was "accelerated" once before, at a cost of $122,000. School officials wanted to be sure the outer shell, construction of which began last April, would be finished by December.

Mr. Phaire said the school system does not employ registered architects or structural, mechanical or electrical engineers who might have discovered the problems earlier.

"I'm not making excuses, but this wasn't our fault," he said.

The delay also affected plans for construction of Park Elementary and renovation of South Shore Elementary. Construction drawings for those schools were based on the Solley plans. The delay means the construction bids won't go out until late this month, even though the money has been available since July.

The problems are only the latest encountered by the construction department.

County Council members hammered the department this year when they learned that renovations at media centers at seven schools would cost $120,000 each, instead of $50,000 each.

The council refused to provide additional money for the projects. School administrators are now deciding which three schools will get upgraded library-computer laboratory combinations.

"I don't know where the $50,000 figure came from," said Mr. Phaire, who has been on the job less than six months. "I went back and did as much research as I could, and I could find no supporting information."

The $120,000 price tag does not include the cost of buying and installing computers or the cost of installing portable classrooms, he said.

The Seven Oaks Community Association also has complained about the school system's handling of environmental assessments of the site for the new Meade Heights Elementary School.

To streamline construction, Mr. Phaire has started his own review of the construction department. "We've already set a clear schedule from beginning to end on all our projects," he said.

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