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Work on Senior High roof enters second year;arbitration with contractors expected this fall

WILLMAR -- Work continues this summer on a multiple-year effort to improve the roof drainage system at Willmar Senior High School. The school district's efforts to recover the costs from contractors involved in the original construction are going...

WILLMAR -- Work continues this summer on a multiple-year effort to improve the roof drainage system at Willmar Senior High School.

The school district's efforts to recover the costs from contractors involved in the original construction are going a little slower.

By the end of the summer, the building's thick exterior walls will have a fresh rubber membrane across the top and eight inches down on the outside, longer fascia board and a new metal cap.

Arbitration hearings aren't likely before sometime this fall, and no date has been set yet.

When it comes to the Senior High's roof, it seems nothing is simple.

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"It's a very complex process," said Superintendent Kathy Leedom this week. "We're not only overseeing the physical construction, we're also working with legal counsel to make sure all the details leading up to the arbitration can be covered in an appropriate way."

Problems with the drainage system were first discovered during a study of maintenance needs in the district's buildings. One of the biggest problems was found at the Senior High, the district's newest building, just 10 years old at the time.

Architects discovered that the roof drainage system had not been installed according to design.

Other problems were uncovered, too. The original construction did not include a vapor barrier in the swimming pool area, and the through-wall flashing needed around the windows was either missing or installed improperly.

The issue in all cases was moisture seeping into the narrow space between the concrete block walls and the brick exterior, and it wasn't draining away properly. Architects said the problems were found before the basic structure of the building was harmed.

The repair effort is expected to be done over four summers and cost more than $1 million.

Last week, a crew from Reigstad Roofing removed the original metal caps from the tops of walls over the pool and gym areas.

After discarding the old caps, they bonded a new section to the roof's black rubber membrane, covering wall tops and more.

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That was followed by the fascia boards and metal caps. The aim is to keep wind-driven rain from flowing into the building's exterior walls.

Several windows will be repaired this year, but the majority of them will be done in the next two summers.

"Hopefully they'll be close to done by Sonshine (July 13-15)," said Brad Schueller, head custodian at the Senior High, as he stood on the roof watching the work.

"It's been a beautiful summer," and that has helped keep the project on schedule, Schueller said.

The new fascia boards are four inches wider than the original ones. That's what was recommended by Cities Edge Architects, the firm that first found the problems, said Rich Olson, the district's director of health and safety.

School personnel and Cities Edge are watching the work closely to make sure it follows the specifications.

"We have to be, to be good stewards of the public's money," Olson said. "We have communications every day with the contractors," and he also speaks daily with representatives of Cities Edge.

The district also keeps contractors and subcontractors who worked on the original construction informed of the repair progress, Leedom said. They and their attorneys are notified as the work progresses and may view each phase if they wish.

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A hearing on the arbitration is expected sometime this fall, according to Amy Mace, the district's attorney. The hearing could last as long as eight days, and the arbitrator would normally have 30 days to make a ruling, she said.

Planning for the arbitration is under way this summer, as the parties exchange documents related to the original construction and the repair work, Mace said.

"The board is committed to taking whatever action is needed to protect the interests of the taxpayers," Mace said. That includes a two-pronged approach of moving ahead with repairs and going to arbitration to recover costs.

"We want to maintain the structural integrity of a very fine structure we expect to serve us for many years to come; that's why we began work already last year," Leedom said. "The overarching principle we're working with this year is to seal the exterior envelope of the building."

In addition to the improvements to the tops of the exterior walls, sealant around windows and in exterior joints is being replaced this summer all around the school. That part of the project is "good preventive maintenance," Olson said.

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