Suit expected over Sherman school

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, April 10, 2001

[04/10/01] A faulty underground drainage system at one of Vicksburg’s new elementary schools may ignite a legal dispute.

At a special meeting Monday night,Vicksburg Warren School District trustees told their attorney to get ready to sue the contractor and architect of Sherman Avenue Elementary.

During the last two years, the land around Sherman Avenue Elementary, which also houses Warren Central Intermediate, has eroded because of a leak in the underground drainage system installed during site preparation.

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Dana Road Elementary, which also houses Vicksburg Intermediate, is experiencing the same problem, Superintendent Donald Oakes said Monday.

The $23.8 million buildings opened to students in September 1999 were designed by the same architects at Tompkins & Barron and were built by the same contractor, Roy Anderson Corp.

“I’m convinced this is a problem from the contractor and architect,” Oakes said. “Our patience has run out, and we’re not sure the repair has been done in a proper manner.”

The Dana Road facility was built on school-owned 16th Section land. Sherman Avenue was built on acreage purchased from private owners. At both sites, extensive land leveling preceded construction, meaning natural drainage was altered and some building took place on “fill.”

Since November, Oakes said, the district has asked the contractor and architects to fix the drainage pipes at Sherman Avenue.

The pipe beneath the soil on the U.S. 61 North side has been repaired twice, and the pipe below the soil on the Sherman Avenue side has been repaired three times, he said.

However, dirt on both sides continues to sink, and the district wants to sue for the cost of repairs.

“We hate to talk about legal action, but the board is very dissatisfied,” trustees president Zelmarine Murphy said.

Jim Chaney, the district’s attorney, told trustees he will begin preparing legal documents. Oakes said the district plans to investigate the damage at Dana Road further.

Ruth Lowe, assistant principal at Sherman Avenue said, as far as she knows, the drainage problem has not affected the structure of the building.

“Any place you build new, you’re going to have some drainage problems,” she said. “But, the building’s not going to fall down.”

At the called meeting, trustees also identified the five people from the 15-member superintendent search committee who were chosen to participate in interviews of the three finalists chosen last month. They are Jerry Rushing, Nancy Melancon, Sherry Fisher, Horace Allen and an alternate, Heidi Chausse.

Twelve of the 15 members responded to trustees’ requests for their participation, Murphy said. Butch Newman, principal at Redwood Elementary, responded but declined the invitation.

Committee members will be able to ask the finalists questions, but must submit them in advance, Murphy said, to be screened by Chaney. The four committee members each will ask one question during the interview, and each trustee will ask two.

“We thought this was the fair thing to do,” Murphy said.

Rushing agreed. “Just by the response from the committee, I think everyone is very happy with the end result.”

The search committee, made up of teachers, educators and parents, exists under the district’s Strategic Plan, which includes specific steps for the search for new personnel and was adopted by the Board of Trustees in 1997.

Interviews begin at 9 a.m. Saturday and are scheduled so the finalists will have no contact with one another.

The selection is expected to be made by May 1, and the new superintendent will take over July 1.

Oakes, who has been interim superintendent since Robert Pickett’s retirement in February 2000, is a finalist. Others are Dr. Timothy Havard, assistant superintendent of Jackson County School District in Vancleave; and Dr. Carl Davis, superintendent of Natchez-Adams School District.