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Solution near in pipe problem at school?

By Curt Yeomans

cyeomans@news-daily.com

Clayton County school officials were holding out hope for a solution to the pipe problem at Mt. Zion Primary School on Tuesday, even though the school board was told a day earlier a lawsuit might be necessary.

Jonesboro's Mt. Zion Primary is a $14.7 million kindergarten-through second-grade facility. It opened in August with 534 students.

On Monday, Joseph Jones, the chief operations officer for Clayton County Schools, informed board members the district had problems getting the school's architects to pay for repairs needed to fix a design flaw. The pipes used to heat and cool the school were too small to do their jobs adequately.

After Jones' presentation, the board gave permission to spend $217,561 for the replacement pipes. District officials plan to recoup the money from the Atlanta-based architectural firm of J.W. Robinson and Associates, Inc. How the money will be retrieved has not yet been decided.

"We are going to meet with the architects some time within the next 10 days to discuss the problem," said Charles White, the district's spokesman. "We're going to seek any amicable solution to this situation."

The problem at Mt. Zion Primary School stems from the design the architectural firm's mechanical engineer created for the school. The engineer designed the heating and cooling system to include pipes which were 4 inches in diameter, according to Klaus Darnall, the school system's architect. The replacement pipes are 6 inches in diameter.

Even though the board was not made aware of the situation until Monday, district officials have known about the pipe problem since November. They spent a month trying to find a solution, and the mechanical engineer tried to convince Jones, and other officials, the problem could be solved without changing the pipes.

"None of the suggestions he had worked," Jones said. "The mechanical engineer stands by his belief that this will work, but the reality is, it hasn't."

Jones also told officials from J.W. Robinson and Associates the same thing, but they have refused to pay the costs of replacing the pipes.

"We will demand payment," said Jones, but he also said the district may have to take the architects to court to get them to pay up.

Superintendent John Thompson authorized the replacement pipes on Dec. 19, even though district officials were not successful in their attempts to get the architects to pay for them. The changing of the pipes is roughly 75 percent complete, and should be finished this weekend, according to Jones.

"I did not want to have the kids coming back in January only to be freezing in their classrooms," said Thompson. "We had to move forward."

Board members were not happy Monday when they learned of the design flaw. They were concerned that two months had passed before they heard about the problem. But the target of their ire was mainly the architectural firm.

"I can't tell you what I think you should say to them," said board member Mary Baker.

The school system's architect also said J.W. Robinson and Associates, Inc., has not designed any other existing facility for the school system, said Darnall. He added that any future contracts with the firm will be "carefully evaluated."

Phone calls to to Jeffrey Robinson, a vice president of the architectural firm, were not answered. He could not be reached for comment.