Olympia School District won’t seek recovery of $3 million in emergency repairs at Madison

Olympia School District officials say they won’t be able to recoup nearly $3 million that was spent on repairing moisture damage at Madison Elementary School.

The district hired an outside investigator to determine whether it would be feasible to pursue an insurance claim or litigation against another party such as the school’s architect, builder, subcontractors, materials suppliers or any other group that may have been involved in the building’s construction. The school was reopened in January 2014 after undergoing nearly six months of repairs.

The district’s outside investigation for a liable party took more than a year.

“Initial impressions were that it was an engineering problem,” district spokeswoman Rebecca Japhet said this week. “However, further exploration revealed that the building did in fact meet the ‘standards of care’ required at the time it was built. The district’s attorneys have advised us that, given those facts, it is very unlikely the district would be successful if it pursued litigation related to the building.”

According to Olympian archives, Madison Elementary School was built in 1999 for $5.8 million. During the summer of 2013, maintenance crews discovered cracking in the stucco on the building’s exterior, according to superintendent Dick Cvitanich. Under the stucco, crews found moisture damage and rot in the plywood and in some cases the studs, he said.

The school was closed for about six months, as crews installed additional layers of vapor barriers, added thicker walls with a rigid insulation that will help prevent moisture intrusion and replaced the building’s exterior. Students attended classes at other locations for the first half of the school year, including New Bridge Community Church, which was the original Madison school.

“We were faced with a dilemma, and I’m proud of the way the entire district staff and community came together to ensure our students had a positive educational experience and a solid start to the school year,” Cvitanich recalled.

While the building was closed, district workers also finished about $20,000 worth of projects that had already been planned for Madison, including upgraded safety features, installation of a new telephone system, and a fresh coat of paint for the interior and exterior.

“The end result is, I think, we have a better building because of it,” said Olympia School Board president Justin Montermini. “As you go through the building now, it feels like a fresh, clean, new building. I think that’s something the community can appreciate.”

Even though they didn’t end up pursuing a settlement, he said the board felt it was worth trying to find out if the district could recover the costs.

“We’ve learned from this and hope we can prevent it from happening in the future,” Montermini said.

In fact, the district has already made some changes that should help prevent similar situations, Japhet said. Most districts use a traditional “design, bid, build” approach for their capital projects. Olympia School District is now using a state-approved approach in which the contractor and architect are hired in tandem so they can work together on all elements of the project, from design to completion, she said.

The district’s two most recent projects — a $15 million remodel of Garfield Elementary School and construction of the $20 million Olympia Regional Learning Academy — used this format, Japhet said.

“This ensured that design and construction functioned smoothly together,” she added. “It resulted in two very structurally sound school buildings, and both projects came in right on budget.”