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$470K Later, School Roofs Still Leak

Legal fees related to leaky rooftops at three city schools outpace repair costs.

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Leave it to the Richmond Public Schools to take a fairly straightforward warranty claim and turn it into a long, complicated and expensive legal odyssey.

Since 2000, when Linwood Holton, Miles Jones and Blackwell elementary schools first opened, the roofs and windows in the schools' central atriums have leaked. Efforts to stop the leaks — both by workers and by a bevy of lawyers — have produced mixed results. The Blackwell roof was fixed last year, but the other two school roofs continue to leak nine years after opening.

Meanwhile, the cost for the School Board's lawyers to negotiate — and possibly litigate — is outpacing the cost to actually fix the leaks.

As of last month, the school system had paid law firm Hirschler Fleischer $470,235 for legal work related to the roof matter. That's $100,000 less than the amount the school system has allotted to pay for roof repair or replacement costs at four other school buildings in the 2009 capital improvement plan project list.

Webb Moore, an attorney with Hirschler Fleischer, tells Style via e-mail that he continues to negotiate toward settlement to repair the two remaining defective roofs. The school system filed a lawsuit against the construction contractors in September 2006. A trial has been set for Nov. 16.

John Lawson, chief executive of Newport News-based W.M. Jordan Co., the lead construction contractor in the case, is convinced a happy ending is near.

“We're very close to getting everything resolved on the Richmond schools,” Lawson says, noting the success with Blackwell's roof, and saying that at “the other two [schools] we have the game plan done.”

“It's just a matter of signing all the various legal documents and committing all the various parties that are a part of the repair to it,” Lawson says. “We would assume that would be done most any day and that repairs will be done over the summer.”

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