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Appeals court: School roof arbitration can move ahead

A Minnesota Court of Appeals said the Willmar School District can proceed with arbitration for nearly $1 million in repairs to Senior High, above, roof and drainage system. Tribune file photo

WILLMAR -- The Willmar School District may finally be able to seek compensation for nearly $1 million in repairs needed to the roof and wall drainage systems at Willmar Senior High School.

The Minnesota Court of Appeals said in an opinion filed Tuesday that the school district can go ahead with arbitration over claims that four contractors breached the warranties on their work on the building.

Kandiyohi County District Judge Michael Thompson ruled in April 2008 that the district could not go to arbitration because the statute of limitations had expired for arbitrating breach-of-contract claims.

A panel of three Court of Appeals judges agreed that the statute of limitations had expired for a breach of contract, but ruled that the claims for a breach of warranty could be addressed in arbitration.

"It's a good day for the school district," said Amy Mace, the district's lawyer. "We really get to present our whole case, just under a different legal theory."

Because the court upheld part of the case and reversed part of it, any of the parties involved could appeal to the Minnesota Supreme Court within 30 days, Mace said. However, there is no guarantee the court would accept an appeal, she added.

Mace said she expects to see the case scheduled for arbitration. An arbitration hearing had been scheduled once before but never took place because of the filing of the civil suit.

The companies who are parties to the suit are Day Masonry, Commercial Roofing Inc., GenFlex Roofing Systems and Lovering-Johnson Construction. Day Masonry had filed the civil suit in May 2007 and was joined by the other contractors.

All claimed that the statute of limitations prevented the school district from asking them to help pay for the drainage problems at the school.

Serious problems with the construction of the drainage system for the roof and walls were found in 2004, when the building was about 10 years old.

The district had commissioned a study of its facilities in 2004 to develop a list of deferred maintenance issues.

School officials were shocked when the study uncovered drainage issues in the district's newest, largest building.

The district hired an engineering firm with expertise in roofs, walls and waterproofing to look into the problem. School officials sent the engineering report to the contractors in December 2004.

Engineers and architects who studied the building that fall suggested that the building was designed properly, but the construction did not follow the design.

A missing vapor barrier in the pool area was allowing moisture to seep into the walls. Through-wall flashings had been improperly installed and were of poor quality.

The roof membrane did not extend far enough at the tops of the walls, and the flashing there was too short. The combination could allow a wind-driven rain to enter the narrow gap between the main concrete block walls and the brick exterior.

Over the course of four summers, the district repaired the problems with the original construction. The work included installing a vapor barrier in the swimming pool area and new caps and flashings at the tops of the exterior walls. Through-wall flashings were replaced on every door and window in the building.

The work was originally estimated to cost about $1.8 million, but in the end cost about $900,000. The district found less costly ways to make some of the improvements, and bid amounts were often less than expected. The work was completed in summer 2008.