Coast Unified district to get $1.2 million over school's leaky tanks

ktanner@thetribunenews.comSeptember 12, 2013 

grammar school reservoir4

A 2-mile network of 5-foot tall storage pipes, seen here during installation in 2004, was buried underneath playing fields at the Cambria Grammar School as a water-thrifty way to keep athletic fields green.

COURTESY OF COAST UNIFIED SCHOOL

Correction: An earlier version of this story said Advanced Drainage Systems installed the system at issue. ADS did not install the system; it supplied materials.

Coast Unified School District will receive at least $1.2 million to settle a years-old legal dispute involving leaking underground water storage tanks at Cambria Grammar School.

The settlement with RRM Design Group of San Luis Obispo and Advanced Drainage Systems Inc. of Ohio involves work on the $16.4 million, 34,320-square-foot complex that opened in August 2005 above Main Street near Eton Road. It now serves 334 kindergarten through fifth-grade students.

A water-reclamation system at the school collects rain runoff in large tanks that can hold up to 1.7 million gallons under the athletic fields.

According to the design plans, the grass was to draw moisture from below, reducing or replacing the need to irrigate it from above. But the system didn’t work, district Superintendent Chris Adams said. The grass died.

Adams believes the primary problems were a tank that was too small, a pump that was too big and, especially, crucial seals that leaked, among other issues.

Now, the grass is green and the system is functioning. However, when there’s not enough rainfall to fill the system, it can run dry or close to it in the dry season. That’s when district maintenance workers and others must haul in water to keep the fields green. 

So far this year, it has cost nearly $30,000 for Winsor Construction to haul treated wastewater to the system from the services district, with $8,000 of that expense incurred in the past month, Adams estimated Tuesday.

The district also has its own $17,000, 1,700-gallon water tanker, bought in 2009 to help keep the system full.

Design and construction issues litigated for more than five years, Adams said. A settlement was approved recently by the court and finalized by the district July 3.

The district had previously settled a lawsuit against the contractor, Diani Construction of Santa Maria. According to the settlement between the school district and RRM, RRM is solely responsible for further pursuit of a claim against Diani Construction, but the district would have to agree to any settlement and stands to share in proceeds of a settlement.

RRM was the architect of record on the project, Eric Justesen, the firm’s CEO, said by phone Tuesday. “It definitely was a complex issue, stretched over five, six years. RRM was kind of caught in the middle in the dispute between the district, the contractor and specialty subs. We did the architecture. Most of the problems were construction-related.

“We did settle,” he said, although much of the negotiating was done by RRM’s insurance carrier. “We’re glad that’s behind us. … Our viewpoint is it’s a fantastic facility.”

The settlement calls for RRM’s insurance carrier to pay the district a total of more than a $1 million, exhausting RRM’s liability policy, and Advanced Drainage to pay $195,000.

Adams said funds from the settlement will reimburse the district for approximately $300,000 in repairs already done to the playing fields and water-

storage system, as well as to pay to haul in irrigation water when rainfall totals do not reach yearly averages.

School board President Del Clegg said the district’s Board of Trustees has been focused on “proper stewardship of the community’s money, while making sure our children’s school site was safe and operated as the intended design provided.”

Clegg also noted that the lengthy legal efforts helped ensure that “the school’s fields remain green and playable for our students and the community.”

Calls to Advanced Drainage were not returned.

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