Fort Smith School Board hears update on Peak flooding issues

The Fort Smith School District administration building Friday, Jan. 22, 2021.
(NWA Democrat-Gazette/Andy Shupe)
The Fort Smith School District administration building Friday, Jan. 22, 2021. (NWA Democrat-Gazette/Andy Shupe)

FORT SMITH -- Smaller than needed construction materials, substandard construction work and a lack of coordination between architectural, plumbing and civil engineering drawings caused the School District's Peak Innovation Center to flood, according to a consultant.

The center and/or its parking lot has flooded three times since the building opened in March 2022. The center is a collaboration between the School District and the University of Arkansas at Fort Smith but owned by the district.

George Feathers, senior project consultant for Illinois-based company Envista Forensics, presented his findings to the board during its meeting Tuesday.

School Board member Phil Whiteaker asked how something like this could happen.

"I can't tell you specifically what happened, but I can say that there was a lot of eyes on the project, and it appears to me that there were questions that were not asked when people saw something that should have been there that wasn't," Feathers said.

Feathers added he doesn't know why nobody noticed all the code violations before. He said it's Envista's job to present facts, not assign blame for a project.

Joseph Velasquez, district construction project manager, said in June that repairs to Peak are expected to cost almost $4 million. The center cost more than $19 million to build.

Peak's parking lot first flooded in June 2022, putting a custodian's car under water.

The center flooded for the second time during spring break in March 2023, with water entering the front office area, the adjacent hall and nearby classroom areas, according to the district. The district said no classrooms had damage, and the center was open the following Monday.

Peak flooded for the third time in June 2023, with Superintendent Terry Morawski emailing School Board members notifying them water again entered the office and the unfinished area nearby. He said the flooding wasn't as extensive as in March, with no water damage to the carpet or furniture.

Envista found the roof drainage system for the north side of the east wing of Peak had architectural, plumbing and civil drawings that were not coordinated. The result was trouble with the rainwater drainage system.

The gutter also was smaller than the minimum size required and did not have expansion joints, which caused stresses to deform the gutter system and potentially compromise the gutter anchor system. The downspouts were smaller than required, and the underground single wall, corrugated roof drainage piping was at least 40% smaller than the minimum size required, according to the report.

The evaluation of the roof drainage system for the south facet of the east wing of Peak revealed the main roof drain connection was incorrectly located from where it was indicated on civil and plumbing drawings, the report continued. The roof drains didn't meet size requirements, and a portion of the roof was enclosed by a parapet wall and was missing a secondary, emergency roof drain system, making it noncompliant with standards.

The underground roof piping also was noncompliant with standards,and the utility roof drains were undersized from the point of the main roof drain inlets at the perimeter of the building to the point of outlet at the parking lot, among other findings.

Envista's report on the east facet of the west wing of Peak found the piping indicated on the plumbing and civil drawings were not coordinated or correct because there was a roof drain pipe in the drawings that wasn't constructed. The roof drain installations did not comply with minimum requirements, and the roof again was enclosed by a parapet wall and was missing a secondary, emergency roof drain system, the report said. The drain piping did not comply with standards because the downstream pipe size was reduced.

In all cases, Envista noted, documents were not available in the files the company received to identify the missing information on the construction documents.

Board member Davin Chitwood said a goal of the investigation was to help the board avoid problems like this in the future. He asked if Feathers had any suggestions.

Feathers said the Peak building went from a distribution warehouse to a higher education building, which have two completely different functions. He said if the district wanted to keep the gutter system that was in place, they needed to make sure it was going to function properly.

Morawski said the district is going to fix Peak, so the board can work with the district's legal counsel and get advice before deciding what to do.

"Of course, the board needs to remember there's some exposure there too," he said. "There may be expense, and there may be no outcome. The district may not receive any damages and may put out legal fees in that process. So just something to think about. And probably there'd be a more extensive review process ahead of any real action or anything like that, because as you hear, there's some blanks that still need to be filled in here, as well."

Board member Talicia Richardson said she sees this as a major failure to communicate across multiple parties.

"We are in a situation where we got a product that was less than what we wanted to receive, went over budget, went longer than it was supposed to, and we're still dealing with issues in this beautiful, magnificent regional facility that serves our community," she said.

The center serves roughly 280 students from 22 school districts across Crawford, Franklin, Johnson, Logan, Scott and Sebastian counties through the university's Western Arkansas Technical Center program.

The center houses courses for automation and robotics, computer-integrated machining, electronics technology and industrial maintenance, emergency medical responders, medical office assistants, network engineering and unmanned aerial systems.

Board member Dalton Person asked the district to send this report to each of the parties involved so their responses can be discussed at the next board meeting.

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