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School can't sue on roof collapse


Courtesy photo

A view from inside the Havre High School roof after heavy snow fall caused a portion of the roof to collapse during the Christmas break.

Talcott Construction is starting work on the recently approved $974,330.55 Havre High School roof construction project to bring the roof up to the building codes it was originally supposed to have been built to in 1997.

But some people in the district still have questions about the accountability of the first collapsed roof.

The engineering report that Thomas Dean & Hoskins put together for the district after the collapse identified a number of places where the original contractor did not follow the architect's plans. Further, the report said the 1994 Universal Building Codes that were active at the time were not enforced.

The point, however, is moot, according to Havre Public Schools Superintendent Andy Carlson.

He said it has been looked into and Montana State Statute 27.2.208 forbids any action from being taken.

That law reads "an action to recover damages... resulting from or arising out of the design, planning, supervision, inspection, construction, or observation of construction of any improvement to real property … may not be commenced more than 10 years after completion of the improvement …. "

Since the roof was built more than 13 years before the collapse, nothing can be done, he said.

"When it's Montana law, there isn't anything that we can do about it, " Carlson said. "We've looked into every possible thing we can.

"I know beyond us, our insurance company has. "

Bud Baldwin, owner of Baldwin Insurance Associates, which insures the schools, said that he and his company's lawyers had looked into ways to recover some of the growing costs of this project, to no avail.

"We thought, possibly because there was a degree of negligence, that there would possibly be some recourse, " Baldwin said, "but they basically said they'd explored it. At this point there wasn't anything they could do. "

Havre's building inspector, then and now, Dave Peterson, who is now director of Public Works, said that the city takes a look at the specifications and plans submitted and then occasionally takes a look at the work being done. Sometimes contractors call the city before pouring concrete or taking some other major step in the process.

Peterson referred questions about the 1997 project to TD&H.

He said city officials will be looking at the current project, hoping to make sure the same problems don't come up again.

He said city officials would look at all of the plans that have yet to be submitted, and then would be on site occasionally throughout the project, relying on the on-site engineer to keep an eye on day-to-day developments.

"What we try to do on all projects is make sure they're done in accordance with the specs, " Peterson said. "We wouldn't be up there every day.

"As far as the city providing inspection on this, we'll be up there periodically. "

For the insurance company and its involvement in this summer's project, Baldwin said he doesn't know how involved he can be in protecting his client and his company's interest.

"I'm not sure if the insurance company can do anything about it, " Baldwin said. "It's between the engineer and the contractor and the owner, in this case the district.

"It's an unfortunate thing, but there's nothing to be done about it. "


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