Houston trustees hire Jackson attorneys for roof lawsuit

LOGO HOUSTON School RAMHOUSTON – A Jackson law firm has been hired by the Houston School District Board of Trustees to provide legal services in an effort to get the roof fixed at the Houston School of Science and Technology.

School board trustees met March 6, and after a 40-minute executive session with NewPath consultant Warren Bowen, voted unanimously to hire Jernigan, Copeland & Anderson, a Ridgeland firm specializing in construction law.

The need for a new attorney arose after the board discovered previous attorneys Bill Murphree and Gary Carnathan allegedly had a conflict of interest in the district’s suit to get a leaking roof at the Houston School of Science and Technology fixed.

Trustees also approved the payment of $2,293.38 to NewPath for consulting work. The board was approached about paying an invoice from NewPath of $21,629.18 at their April 2013 meeting.

These decisions are part of the district’s on-going effort to find out why a roof installed approximately three years ago has not stopped leaks at the School of Science and Technology, formerly known as the Vo-Tech Center.

The district’s legal battle has named roofing material maker GAF, contractor Copper Top Roofing and project architect Pryor & Morrow as potential litigants.

The district contracted with Copper Top in 2010 to fix the roof at a cost of $240,000. The school board has repeatedly contacted architect Roger Pryor and Copper Top since the roof was installed saying they are not satisfied with the work.

Murphree told the school board in December the suit was in arbitration and Murphree’s Tupelo firm has billed the district for his work after he was released earlier this year. The board had repeatedly met in closed session with attorneys to discuss the case.

In August the district budgeted $300,000 for attorney fees for potential litigation to force Pryor & Morrow, CopperTop Roofing and GAF Inc., to repair a leaking roof at the Houston School of Science and Technology. The district has also budgeted $400,000 to repair the roof if litigation fails.

Pryor and Copper Top have said the problem is with condensation pans on old air conditioning units and not the roof that was installed.

At a March 2011 meeting Pryor said the type of roof installed does not have a history of failure and he believes it was installed correctly.

The district hired NewPath Strategy Consultants, of Jackson, in June 2012 to develop a plan to assess construction and estimate costs for repairing leaks at the Houston Vocational Building and replacing air conditioners.

In April 2013 the board met with NewPath in executive session and then voted to have Board Attorney Jimmy Hood send a “strongly worded” letter of notice to all parties responsible for the roof on the School of Science and Technology.

Trustees have met repeatedly in executive session for almost a year to talk about how they might go about getting the roof fixed or be reimbursed for work they believe was not done properly.

And the roof continues to leak. Teachers and students were exposed to wet ceiling tiles and puddles in the floor during the last school year.

Houston School Superintendent Dr. Steve Coker told trustees at the June 10 board meeting that who pays to get the roof to stop leaking will influence whether the district pays to fix the roof or repave the driveway around the Houston Middle School and High School. The paving project has been quoted to carry a $125,000 price-tag.

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