Last week during the rain storm I, in company with Board of Education member Linda Gordius, was given a tour of the high school construction project. Mr. Norm Justice, owner’s representative, along with an assistant principal, conducted us, in company with two construction officials. In certain areas of the construction, a lot of water was dripping, however, these areas were construction join lines in the old section.

I was informed that the present addition is the fourth construction project in the history of the high school. The most likely area for leakage is where the old and the newer come together. Mr. Justice was on the top of the situation, and appeared to have the ear of the construction people, so I have hope that the renovated areas will be watertight before the refurbished walls are completed.

I was much less happy to find leakage still around a window in the new section. Sharp-eyed Ms. Gordius also spotted a wet ceiling area not before seen by the others. Twenty years or so ago I worked along with two carpenters on an addition to my wife’s house. We got in ten windows, including a roof window. None of the Ross windows has ever had leakage from the get-go. Why should there be a different standard for a $27 million project?

What particularly disconcerts me is what may be happening in the areas not visible from the outside. Much turmoil could have been avoided if the proper authorities had expressed to the Board of Education that there were problems, as amply documented by internal e-mails, and the Board was asked how it wanted to proceed. Yet, two Board members told me that they had no idea that there were construction problems until the problems were brought forward by Councilors Patch and Messer. There is a failure of leadership here somewhere.

Finally, there are some who seem to desire to make Councilor Messer the problem. This is unfounded. The problem was in the first instance shoddy work, probably exacerbated by pressure to maintain an unwisely aggressive completion schedule, and in the second instance an attempt to withhold information by the responsible authorities about problems, even from some of those who had a legitimate oversight responsibility to know about the problems. Mr. Messer has proven, in the Regional Waste System shakeup and revamping, that he is not afraid to wade into a mess and try to fix it. In the case of RWS, his efforts will save the taxpayers of Scarborough hundreds of thousands of dollars going forward, and will be worth millions of dollars in avoided costs to the 27 municipalities who have a stake in RWS.

Councilor Messer involved himself in the high school project when those who had a responsibility to act did not. It became very clear that a majority of the Board of Education had no interest in allowing a truly independent examination of the high school project, which might have resulted in a recommendation of credits back to the taxpayers, and the majority of the council had no interest in spending taxpayers’ money when the other elected body was determined to stonewall an investigation. Those who wish to demonize Mr. Messer will be responded to by those of us who believe that there were, and may be years into the future, significant problems with the high school project construction, and the result may very well be many years before the exasperated and disgusted taxpayers of Scarborough will approve another school building project.

Steve N. Ross

Scarborough Town Councilor

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