Md. officials look for schools built by old firm accused of shoddy work

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Maryland education officials said yesterday that they will ask principals in older public schools to check whether they were built by a company that has been accused of endangering lives by cutting corners on a construction project in the 1960s.

The statewide alert came as Anne Arundel County's education system identified a middle school at which faulty brickwork had to be repaired in 1995 as one built by the now-defunct Lacchi Construction Co., the firm accused of doing dangerously shoddy work at Baltimore City Community College.

An Anne Arundel official said the system found a serious problem in the brickwork at the Arnold building, which houses the Severn River and Magothy River middle schools. A roof on the school collapsed this winter, but officials say it is not clear that Lacchi was at fault.

State General Services Secretary Boyd K. Rutherford told the Board of Public Works on Wednesday that the contractor's defective work at the Baltimore community college could have led to a building collapse at the Liberty Campus. The questionable work -- done between 1963 and 1965 -- involved concrete columns that were not properly reinforced with steel, he said.

State schools Superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick said her department would send a memo to all jurisdictions asking that principals check plaques in the schools to see whether Lacchi is listed as the builder. Public buildings typically have plaques in the lobby that list officials who approved the project, along with the architect and contractor.

Grasmick said checking plaques could be a quicker way to get answers than wading through old paper records.

David Lever, executive director of the Interagency Committee on School Construction, said the request would apply to buildings constructed up to 1980, by which time Lacchi had apparently gone out of business.

Lever said officials were examining work orders to see if there were any underlying structural problems at several Baltimore-area schools where Lacchi was identified as the contractor based on Sun articles from the 1950s through the 1970s.

"We might go in and initiate a structural investigation even if there is no indicator of a problem," Lever said.

Lever said Anne Arundel officials had determined the school The Sun identified yesterday as Arnold Junior High School now houses the two middle schools where part of the roof collapsed during January's snowstorm.

He said the roof -- which was part of the original structure -- had apparently been built to the standards in effect during the time of its construction in the early 1970s. However, he said, the same construction would not pass muster now because codes have been updated to require greater ability to hold up under drifting snow.

Mark Moran, construction supervisor for the Anne Arundel school system, said the roof failure at the school was not the result of a failure of the supporting structure. The building used steel frame construction rather than concrete columns, he said.

"We are making the repairs in there even as we speak," Moran said.

Moran said the building developed a serious problem in 1995 when the brick face started to come off the building. He said officials believed the unusual failure was the result of improperly galvanized steel used to hold the brickwork in place.

In Baltimore County, school official Don Krempel said his staff is checking work orders from the past four years of the two schools known to have been built by Lacchi.

Krempel, who oversees physical facilities in Baltimore County schools, said he doesn't think there are any problems, especially because the buildings have a steel-beam construction that doesn't allow builders to hide defects.

A spokeswoman for the state agency that maintains public buildings said yesterday that engineers had found no structural problems at another Lacchi project -- the Revenue Administration Building in Annapolis, which sits next to the building where Kopp and Comptroller William Donald Schaefer have their offices.

"It's a completely different type of construction," said Anne Hubbard of the Department of General Services.

School officials in Baltimore, where Lacchi worked on two school projects, were unavailable for comment yesterday.

Staff writer Jonathan D. Rockoff contributed to this article.

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