Pleasanton Weekly

News - August 12, 2011

PUSD settles Hearst mold lawsuit

District to receive less than half spent on removal

by Glenn Wohltmann

The Pleasanton school district will get $610,000 to settle its lawsuit against the contractors at Hearst Elementary School after spending nearly two years to eliminate mold discovered at the school.

That's less than half of what the district spent on mold remediation since mold was discovered by a teacher in 2009 and first-day classes were cancelled at the last minute for the 700 or so students at the school on Case Avenue.

The total cost was nearly $1.3 million. The $610,000 settlement will come from nine contractors that worked on the school, which opened in 2000.

"We would have liked to have 1.3 (million dollars) but it was a settlement," said Superintendent Parvin Ahmadi. "You have to agree to some amount."

Of the nine contractors named in the lawsuit, two will pay substantially more than the rest. West Bay Builders will pay $214,000, and S&S Cummins Corporation will pay $200,000; the others will pay between $10,000 and $55,000.

Mold was first discovered in a fourth/fifth-grade classroom when the teacher noticed a shadow on the wall behind a bookcase. Maintenance crews tested the air in the room, which came back clear, but when they attempted to clean the mold up by cutting into the wall, they found it had spread between the drywall and stucco exterior of the classroom, said Myla Grasso, who was the district's public information officer at the time.

In all, 12 classrooms were found to have mold; the source of the contamination appeared to be near speakers outside classrooms in the C building. Water apparently leaked into the speakers and mold spores formed.

Much of the money used to pay for the mold remediation project -- about $422,000 -- came from the school district's Sycamore Fund. The fund was established with proceeds from sale of property purchased with the intent of building a third Pleasanton high school. Money from the sale of the property went to establish a fund that was to be used to pay for technology upgrades, although it's been raided by the district over the last few years as state revenues dropped, and to pay part of the costs of repairing Hearst Elementary.

Ahmadi and school board Chairwoman Valerie Arkin both said at the board's Aug. 4 meeting that the district plans to put the proceeds from the settlement back into the fund.

It's the second lawsuit resolved recently by the district. As reported earlier, a decade-long battle over Neal Elementary School ended in July with the school district receiving a little more $350,000 after spending more than $2 million in a legal battle with Signature Properties. After losing that case and being ordered to pay Signature's court costs of $2.5 million, the district hired Signature's lawyers to sue its own law firm, Lozano Smith, for legal malpractice.

The district claimed, among other things, that Lozano Smith wrote an illegal ACFA (Amended Cooperative Fee Agreement) that violated public bid requirements.

Ahmadi, without naming Lozano Smith, said "the district was released" from the $2.5 million it owed Signature. Ahmadi said the total received was $1.315 million, with the district to receive $357,885.41

Signature's attorneys signed on with the agreement that the company would accept whatever settlement came out of the suit.


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