Finally, it’s turf time!

By on August 24, 2011

By: GARY P. KLINGER Review Correspondent, Staff Writer

For the first time ever students of Ephrata High School took to a brand new turf field for practice on Tuesday as Ephrata Borough issued an occupancy permit to the Ephrata Area School District.

While work on the field is not completely done, it is sufficiently finished to satisfy the district that students could begin using the field without undo concern about their safety.

"It is a wonderful facility," said District Superintendent Dr. Gerald Rosati, "but there are things that still need to be done by contractors. Also, the facility was built knowing that areas such as rest rooms, a concession stand, and permanent bleachers could be added in the future with booster clubs and community support."

It was not, however, without some fireworks erupting at Monday night’s school board meeting where the necessary permits were issued. At issue was the fact that late in the construction process it was discovered that certain borough inspections were inadvertently missed along the way. Due to the fact that third-party inspectors had been present throughout the construction of the new facility, the borough was satisfied that no safety or structural concerns existed. Nonetheless, because the path to occupancy did not follow the typically prescribed route, the borough asked that the school district indemnify the borough in the unlikely event a structural issue would lead to a lawsuit naming the borough as a defendant.

In a statement released on Tuesday, Rosati explained the situation.

"A few weeks ago it was discovered that certain inspections had been inadvertently missed. The contractors for the project worked with the borough to provide independent third party testing, review and certifications of professional engineers so that the borough, school district and project engineers are satisfied that the work in question was performed according to the plan specifications and drawings and that all components of the field project are safe. Representatives of the project architect/engineer and the contractors for the project attended the school board meeting last night to explain the independent testing that was done and to answer any questions of the school board. The contractors and school district have met the borough’s requirements, and today the students have taken to the field for practice."

Indeed Chuck Haley and Chuck Hess from the ELA Group, as well as representatives from each of the various subcontractors were on hand for Monday night’s meeting, offering board members an update on the progress of construction and addressing concerns raised by the missed inspections.

Earlier in the day, School Board President Timothy Stayer met with contractors and the project director on site to inspect the field.

"The field is safe and the integrity of the field is safe," Stayer told those present for the meeting, which was moved to the high school cafeteria in order to accommodate the approximately 20 residents in addition to the team of contractors and engineers from the project. "Our goal is to be able to open and gain the occupancy permit from the borough."

Haley is a professional engineer and is the ELA Sport Project Director. He has been in a lead position for this project from the start. In addressing the board on Monday night, he stated that he has worked through 30 such field projects since 2005. Throughout the project, Haley said he provided the district with periodic updates and oversaw the inspections of work at all the various stages.

Haley explained that the project was to have been completed on Aug. 12. As the team was preparing for inspections is when it was discovered that one inspection along the way was missed. The missed inspection was for an empty, extra underground conduit which was to have been inspected while yet exposed.

"The borough has inspected walls and wall footers," explained Haley. "Advantage Engineering was present for the day to day inspection to assure it was built in accordance with guidelines for such walls. A third party evaluator was present for the electrical contractor. ELA provided photos and a report verifying construction standards to the borough and school district."

While the borough issued the occupancy permit, Haley acknowledged that two pages of punch list items yet remain before the project can be completed.

"The project is not completely finished," stated Haley. "There is a punch list for site work and electrical work. One specific item is landscaping and seeding. With the harsh summer it did not make sense to put something out there that would die fairly directly in the heat and dry conditions. Of the two-page punch list, none of the items affected health or safety. They are all cosmetic in nature. Based on our evaluation and those of third party inspections and the borough and the contractors brought on site, the integrity and safety of the field is sufficient for safety to the students."

School board member Kay Kurtz said that she had been on site earlier in the afternoon and noticed a few capstones on the top of the retaining wall that were not fastened. Haley assured her that some had been knocked loose in construction but had been identified for correction.

That the borough was looking for indemnification from the school district was of key concern to board member Marty Harmes who challenged the administration, contractors and engineers on the fact such indemnification was necessary.

"I agree that we need to look at the safety and welfare of our community," said Harmes, "but why is the borough still looking for independent indemnification from the school district?"

Susan Friedman is the school district’s solicitor. She explained that the borough had been very cooperative but wanted to be satisfied on the issue of safety.

"We assured them that safety was the school district’s interest as well," stated Friedman. "Their indemnification request is not asking anything more than what the district already has protection for. If something happens on the field the school district is on the hook, and not the borough in spite of the inspections. The district would be primarily responsible anyway. The only possible exposure would be reasonable attorney fees. "

It was also explained that this would be a very narrowly drawn indemnification to cover injuries on the field.

"But this is not required for every project. That is my concern," countered Harmes. "I’m not questioning the borough’s position, but I am looking at this through the community point of view. If someone does get hurt it falls back on the tax payers."

One possible solution to the situation could have been to start from nearly scratch with a complete rebuild. However, the collective opinion of the contractors, engineers, third party inspectors, borough and the school district was that although an inspection was missed and the process was not exactly as the borough would have preferred, the project was completed in accordance with the specifications and standards of acceptability.

ELA’s Hess has been in the practice for over 20 years. He addressed concerns with regard to the retaining wall for the site.

"This is about as straight as they get," said Hess. "They are built from individual blocks. It is a split face block where the block is split to get the look."

Hess also explained that what is seen is simply cosmetic with no structural function. It is there to prevent erosion of the wall and is simply to look at.

"The rest is to create a large homogenous look in front of the mesh grid. That is the structure," added Hess. "A little crack in a corner or a little out of line is within spec. The manufacturer of this product says it should be viewed from 10-feet away because of the irregularities."

Hess also added that the compaction of the backfill was all inspected along the way to assure it was in compliance with standards.

Harmes, however, was not the only one with concerns about the ultimate outcome of the project. Several residents present spoke out about their concerns.

Resident Scott Cover took the district to task on a number of his concerns.

"I am taken back that these folks think this wall is perfect," said Cover. "It should not have chunks breaking away; those should be removed. I agree it is not the integrity of the wall but the integrity of the stacked area does affect it."

Not only did Cover take issue with the retaining wall but also the overall workmanship on the project and that the school district was now in a position of providing the borough with indemnification.

"This is not a field we should be proud of but ashamed of," exclaimed Cover.

Borough resident Brian Hoffman was also on hand to take the district to task over his concerns with the handling of the project. In an email to the district last Friday Hoffman had requested a number of documents be available for inspection at Monday night’s meeting. Adhering to the long-time district policy of requiring five days notice to add an item to the board’s agenda, those documents were not readily available. Hoffman also echoed many of Cover’s concerns with regard to the quality of workmanship.

"This is one of the most shoddy jobs I have ever seen," said Hoffman.

In the end, the motion to provide the Borough of Ephrata with indemnification on the project passed with only Harmes voting against the measure.

"I don’t feel comfortable with this," explained Harmes. "It opens a door hoping that nobody gets hurt."

Harmes explained that he felt there should have been further discussion with the borough for other ways this could have been resolved without the need for the indemnification.

Board member Bob Miller voiced support for the borough’s position.

"From a logical standpoint, I’m surprised the borough doesn’t do this all the time," said Miller. "I am not sure why we are so concerned. If I was on borough council I would want this all the time. I’m at a loss. I want to be cautious but I don’t see this as a problem."

In other board business, just prior to the start of the regular agenda items, Stayer read a statement with regard to an unadvertised board work session conducted on Monday, Aug. 15.

"As correctly reported in last week’s edition of The Ephrata Review, the EASD School Board did indeed conduct a work session for the purpose of its ongoing education and self-discovery of the Policy Governance process and method of board operation and conduct. The meeting was scheduled for the time of 6-9 p.m. The sole purpose of the work session was to continue our education and review of the policy governance concepts and ideas for the ends descriptors. Given the recent concerns of the new turf field and the questions expressed by board members, Dr. Rosati had provided me with a status report update for me to share at the beginning of our work session. I did share the status report.

"I want to assure you; at no time were any action items discussed or deliberations made in regards to the turf field or any other action items."

Continuing, Stayer said that "at approximately 10 or 15 minutes before 7 p.m., three community members joined our meeting. These members raised several questions and concerns regarding the turf field for which we were not prepared nor could we answer. It was not a business meeting nor did we have the information they were seeking. They next challenged that we were meeting and that our meeting was not advertised as required under the Sunshine Act. We immediately terminated the meeting after their departure in acknowledgment of our error. They were correct in this assessment. Unfortunately, through an inadvertent oversight, the business of the summer and our desire to continue our discovery journey, we did forget to advertise this one work session. Our meetings and work sessions during the school year are listed on the board’s meeting calendar posted on the district’s web site. We apologize for this oversight and want to assure our community that this oversight will not occur again. Yes it was an oversight on our part, but a simple and honest mistake with no desire to deceive our community."

Concluding, Stayer said that "again I want to assure our community, at no time did the board have intent to conduct business secretly or keep our community out of our meeting, and there were no deliberations or action items discussed. We welcome and encourage our community members to attend our board meetings and work sessions."

For additional information on the Ephrata Area School District, please visit the district’s webpage at Gary P. Klinger welcomes comments and questions at More TURF, page A6

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