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November 17, 2002

TSD begins repairs to residential cottages

From: Knoxville News Sentinel, TN
Nov. 17, 2002

State says it may seek repayment

By Jim Balloch, News-Sentinel staff writer
November 17, 2002

Extensive and expensive repairs are under way on a number of cottages for residential students at Tennessee School for the Deaf.

Meanwhile, state officials say they are contemplating seeking repayment from three firms that were involved in the design and construction of the project.

"We have put them on notice that we feel there were possible problems in the construction and design," said Jim Dixey, director of design and construction in the office of the state architect.

Ray Bell Construction Co. of Nashville, was the contractor. Design work was a joint venture between the engineering firm Barge, Waggoner Sumner and Cannon, and the architectural firm Kaatz Binkley Jones and Morris.

"That project is so old, I don't know enough about it to make an intelligent comment at this time," said David Davidson, president and CEO of Barge Waggoner Sumner and Cannon. "If that is the route the state is going to pursue, though, I guess we will hear something about it."

The State Department of Education recently authorized expenditure of up to $8 million to fix the cottages. Grieve and Associates of Knoxville has been contracted to do the repairs. Problems include bad flooring, damaged bathrooms and doors that will not shut.

"The repairs have begun, the work started about two months ago," TSD Superintendent. Alan Mealka said. "It is being done in phases. There are 22 cottages, and they are needed for occupation, so we are phasing in the work on five or six at a time."

Mealka estimated it would be spring of 2004 before all the work is complete.

Built about 12 years ago, the cottages house about 150 residential students, and occasionally house some day students.

As each set of cottages undergoes the repairs, the others must take on a greater residential load.

"There is some overcrowding, but nothing that we cannot handle," Mealka said. "There are more children in the cottages than we would like to have, but we do have adequate room and adequate bed space. I would say it is more of an inconvenience than it is a problem."

"Some of the problems there are clearly construction errors, some are not, and some may even be design-related," said Dixey. "We are currently investigating all of those different conditions and trying to decide who would be responsible. Our intent is to recover (money), if that is possible, to recover whatever we can. We hope to have more information available in the next six to eight months to help us make that decision."

Ray Bell, owner of the firm that bears his name, said he cannot comment in detail about the situation because of the possibility it may end up in court.

But he added: "That project is going on 12 years old now, and we made a real effort five or six years ago to make a repair to that situation. We spent a lot of money. I think it is more probable that (responsibility for) some things that are not exactly right could fall into everybody's lap. You can have problems where an owner or designer or contractor (all) made some mistakes. Seldom is it one party by themselves."

Sandra Abel, vice president of Kaatz Binkley Jones and Morris, said that she was not familiar enough with situation to comment.

Jim Balloch may be reached at 865-342-6315 or

Copyright 2002, Knoxville News-Sentinel Co.