State officials meet with school district over responsibility for FRG’s premature roof failure

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“There was no one from the past,” said State Senator Joseph A. Griffo, R-47, Rome, whose district includes the City of Rome School District and its taxpayers. “And that was my assertion,” Griffo continued. “Responsibility.”

Griffo, along with MP Marianne Buttenschon, D-119, Marcy, met with school district members and their advisers last week at the Rome Free Academy – where lawmakers saw firsthand the impact of a failure premature from the roof of the FRG – less than 20 years after voters and taxpayers learned they were investing in a state-of-the-art, $ 42 million high school.

In addition to Griffo and Buttenschon, the meeting was attended by RCSD School Director Peter C. Blake; Robert Mezza, assistant superintendent of operations and management; John Nash, Chairman of the Board of Education; Alex Rodriguez, Director of Facilities; representatives from LaBella Associates, the neighborhood architect, as well as neighborhood building managers and tax advisers. Also in attendance were State Department of Education Assistant Commissioner Christina Coughlin, as well as architects and engineers from SED; Deputy State Comptroller Elliott Auerbach and a senior team comprising the Deputy Comptroller and Deputy Examiner; with John Maas, director of the central New York region of the state attorney general’s office.

“We think there should be accountability, especially given the large amount of taxpayer money that was used to complete this project (the new RFA building),” Griffo said. “It is important that we get everyone together to discuss, determine and verify what can be done to resolve this issue. “

“It is important to have all parties at the table,” Buttenschon added, “to consider what steps have been taken in the past and what planning is being carried out to ensure that taxpayers, parents, students and the school community are informed “.

“The group just had a conversation about the history of the new RFA building and specific concerns regarding the design and construction of 20 years ago,” said Blake.

While current district architect LaBella Associates was in attendance on Tuesday, they did not work on the RFA project. Absent from the room were representatives from Montgomery, Watson and Harza, a Utica-based structural engineering company (no longer in operation) and New York-based SBLM Architects, the company hired by the district to design the new RFA. No representative of these companies was present at the meeting.

During the May 6, 2021 regular meeting of the Board of Education in Rome, Facilities Director Alex Rodriguez – who was present last Tuesday – responded to the Board’s questions regarding the costs of repairs that the roof of the RFA was in “total failure”.

Responding to questions about how the roof could fail so quickly and completely, Rodriguez, at the time, said he believed the design flaws were contributing to the problem and argued that the problems started with the section of the roof above the pool, where he shared he believed the insulation was not installed properly. He explained that the open cell insulation was used instead of the closed cell insulation that should have been used due to the predicted humidity that would be present in this pool. He also explained that perforated decking had been installed, a type that allowed moisture to be absorbed into the insulation. Saturated insulation in this area caused moisture to spread to other areas of the roof membrane, impacting the joints that secure it to the building. Questions left to members were whether Rodriguez was right in his assessment and, if so, who would have been responsible for making those unfortunate decisions that left the check for the replacement of a less than 20 year old roof on the taxpayer table. from Rome and New York State.

Blake, during the same meeting, called the issue of the high school roof a “disaster”.

While contractors who worked on RFA’s new construction refer to a 19-year-old roof as having been installed “a long time ago,” an article in The Rome Sentinel, dated February 22, 2017, reports on a investigation of the condition of the installations. conducted by the District of Rome every five years to anticipate needs and budget accordingly. Survey results presented in early 2017 predicted expected costs for the 2020-21 school year. He identified nearly $ 8 million in needed repairs to the “state-of-the-art” high school and specified that “a roofing project should be considered for the roof of the pool and other areas. . In addition, the flashing should be treated in an area that has experienced leaks.

At the time these faults in the roof were identified and, not repairs, but a recommended “roofing project” – and the culprit part of the roof was above the pool, where Rodriguez recently explained the possible moisture-related design flaws in this area – the RFA roof was less than 15 years old.

The district architect, who oversaw this investigation, was also not LaBella, but March Associates.

Griffo shared that during Tuesday’s meeting, district officials revealed that a settlement agreement had been reached between the district and at least one contractor involved in the RFA project. He shared that he remembered it was an issue raised around construction or materials.

“We weren’t aware of this deal before,” Griffo said, “and if they made the right decision then, I don’t know? “

But Griffo didn’t walk away from Tuesday’s conversation, convinced there was no accountability to be attributed to the taxpayers who invested in the legendary high school in Rome, NY.

Griffo revealed that his concern with the issue predates his tenure in the New York State Senate. He is a native of Rome and, during the new construction of FRG, he was mayor of the city.

“Obviously the school district is a separate entity so I wouldn’t have been aware of the details,” Griffo said. “But we worked together and remained aware of their efforts.”

Griffo recalled that a proposal had been made to the people of Rome before building a new high school, and was rejected. But the district backed down under Superintendent Fran Murphy at the turn of the century and convinced taxpayers to invest in building a new multi-million dollar school.

“There has to be a lesson learned here,” Griffo said. “When we do these things, they have to be done with taxpayers in mind. “

Next steps

Griffo shared that attendants left with take-out tasks. The district promised to provide detailed information on the companies and contractors collaborating on the new construction of RFA. The regional attorney general’s office will endeavor to determine whether there are grounds for prosecution.

Griffo recalls that local and New York State taxes were spent on the RFA project.

“How does this happen? Griffo said. “We cannot continue to just accept things. We need to determine what and how it happened. There has to be a responsibility. “

Griffo expressed concern that some of the contractors involved in the RFA project may currently be engaged in other work funded by taxpayer dollars.

“If there are any entrepreneurs or companies that have worked on this and have stepped away from responsibility – but are still doing business in New York state,” Griffo said. “People deserve to know who they are.

Griffo concluded: “People deserve better.”

MEP Buttenschon offered that assurance of lawmakers’ visit to Rome and the ground she hoped everyone at Tuesday’s table shared in common.

“Quality education continues to be our priority.


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