State officials meet with school district regarding accountability for premature RFA roof failure
“There was none from the past,” said Senator Joseph A. Griffo, R-47, Rome, whose district includes the Rome City School District and its taxpayers. “And that was my position,” Griffo continued. “Responsibility.”
Griffo, along with Councilor Marianne Buttenschon, D-119, Marcy, last week met with school district members and their advisers at the Free Academy of Rome – where lawmakers could see for themselves the impact of the RFA roof’s premature failure – less than twenty years after voters and taxpayers were told they were investing in a $42 million state-of-the-art high school.
In addition to Griffo and Buttenschon, the meeting was attended by RCSD Superintendent of Schools Peter C. Blake; Robert Mezza, assistant superintendent for operations and management; John Nash, Chairman of the Education Council; Alex Rodriguez, director of facilities; representatives from LaBella Associates, the district’s architect, as well as the district’s construction managers and tax advisers. Also in attendance were the Assistant Commissioner of the Department of Education, Christina Coughlin, along with SED architects and engineers; state deputy inspector Elliott Auerbach and a senior team including the assistant inspector and assistant examiner; along with John Maas, director of the Central New York Region of the State Attorney General’s Office.
“We believe there is a need to be held accountable, especially given the significant amount of taxpayer money that has been used to complete this project (the new RFA building),” said Griffo. “It’s important that we get everyone together to discuss, determine and establish what can be done to address this issue.”
“It’s important to have all parties around the table,” Buttenschon added, “to review what steps have been taken in the past and what planning is being implemented to ensure 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 with design and construction from 20 years ago,” Blake said.
While the current district architect, LaBella Associates, was in attendance Tuesday, they were not working on the RFA project. Missing from the room were representatives from Montgomery, Watson, and Harza, a Utica-based structural engineering firm (now defunct) and New York City’s SBLM Architects, the firm contracted by the district to design the new RFA. No representatives of those companies were present at the meeting.
At the regular meeting of the Council of Education of Rome on May 6, 2021, the director of facilities, Alex Rodriguez, who attended last Tuesday, answered questions from the council about repair costs that the RFA roof was “completely defective”.
Responding to questions about how the roof could fail so quickly and completely, Rodriguez said at the time that he believed design flaws contributed to the problem and stated that the problems started with the portion of the roofing above the pool, where he shared he believed that the insulation was not installed properly. He explained that open cell insulation was used, rather than closed cell insulation that should have been used because of the expected moisture that would be present in that pool area. He also explained that perforated decking had been installed, a type that allowed moisture to be absorbed into the insulation. The saturated insulation in that area allowed moisture to spread to other parts of the roof membrane, affecting the seals securing it to the building. The questions left to members were whether Rodriguez was right in his assessment and, if so, who would have been responsible for making those fateful decisions that put the check for the replacement of a roof less than 20 years old on the table. table of the taxpayers of Rome and the state of New York.
Blake referred to the issue of the high school’s roof as “a disaster” during that same meeting.
While contractors working on RFA’s new construction refer to a 19-year-old roof as having been installed “a long time ago,” a February 22, 2017 article in The Rome Sentinel reports on a survey of facilities’ condition every five years. the district of Rome to anticipate needs and budget accordingly. The survey results presented in early 2017 predicted expected costs for the 2020-21 school year. It identified nearly $8 million in necessary repairs to the “state-of-the-art” high school, specifying that “a roofing project should be considered for the pool roof and other areas. Also, flashing should be addressed in an area where leakage has occurred.
At the time, those defects in the roof were identified and not repairs, but a “roof project” recommended – and where the culprit part of the roof was over the pool, where Rodriguez recently explained possible design flaws related to the moisture in that area – the RFA roof was less than 15 years old.
The district’s architect, who oversaw that investigation, was also not LaBella, but March Associates.
Griffo shared that district officials announced at Tuesday’s meeting that a settlement agreement has been reached between the district and at least one contractor involved in the RFA project. He shared that he remembered it being an issue of construction or materials.
“We weren’t aware of that agreement before,” Griffo said, “and whether they made the right decision then, I don’t know?”
But Griffo didn’t walk away from Tuesday’s conversation, convinced that no responsibility should be taken on behalf of the taxpayers who invested in the legendary high school Rome, NY.
Griffo revealed that his concerns about the issue predate his tenure in the New York State Senate. He was born in Rome and during the new construction of RFA 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 kept abreast of their efforts.”
Griffo recalled that a proposal had previously been made to the people of Rome to build a new high school, but it was rejected. But the district pushed back under the leadership of Superintendent Fran Murphy at the turn of the century, convincing taxpayers to invest in the new multi-million dollar school building.
“There’s a lesson to be learned here,” Griffo said. “If we’re doing these things, they need to be done with taxpayers in mind.”
Griffo informed that servants were leaving with takeout duties. The district promised to provide detailed information about the companies and contractors involved in the new construction of RFA. The attorney general of the region will investigate whether there are grounds for legal action.
Griffo recalls that both local and state tax dollars were spent on the RFA project.
“How could such a thing happen,” said Griffo. “We can’t just keep accepting things. We need to find out what and how this happened. There must be accountability.”
Griffo expressed concern that some of the contractors involved in the RFA project may currently be involved in other work funded by taxpayers’ money.
“If there are contractors or firms that have worked on this and are no longer accountable, but are still doing business in upstate New York,” Griffo says. “The people deserve to know who they are.”
Griffo concluded, “The people deserve better.”
Councilor Buttenschon offered this assurance regarding the legislators’ visit to Rome and the ground she hoped everyone at the table would have in common on Tuesday.
“Quality education remains our priority.”