Problems abound in Wayne school construction project featured in campaign ad

Phil Kabler, Staff Writer

A Wayne County elementary school construction project that is the subject of a controversial gubernatorial campaign ad turns out, apparently, to be riddled with problems, the executive director of the West Virginia School Building Authority has confirmed.

“It’s pretty unusual for that many things to be rejected,” David Sneed said of three letters from the architect for the Crum school project, each citing construction problems. “It’s unusual for that company to have this many problems.”

The construction project is featured in a Jim Justice for Governor television commercial that includes video of construction workers from Honduras and Mexico — an ad that Bill Cole’s campaign tried unsuccessfully to get taken off the air with a cease-and-desist letter to stations airing the spot.

On Sept. 30, ZMM Inc. architect Nathaniel Spencer sent three rejection letters to Swope Construction, citing improper construction or installation of:

Insulated concrete form walls. The walls are defective because of voids, or holes, within the concrete, according to the architect.

“Swope Construction needs to verify the extent of the voids in the ICF walls” and provide an engineer-approved plan to repair the problem areas, the letter states.

Column anchor bolts that are not plumb.

Wall finish that does not match the sample wall finish approved by the architect.

Sneed said there also are issues on the site with concrete floors that are not level, and with HVAC roof curbs that apparently are not properly supported with structural steel.

He said Monday that he was not certain if rejection letters had been issued on those additional problems.

“We expect the contractor to produce a remediation plan for all these issues,” Sneed said. “We expect them to be corrected, or we won’t be able to pay for the work that’s in place.”

While it is unusual for one construction project to have so many problems, Sneed said he is confident there are procedures in place to assure all the flaws are corrected.
“In the end, the community of Crum will have a good school in place,” he said, “one way or another.”

Don Gatewood, vice president of Swope Construction, objected Tuesday to the “unauthorized and unprofessional distribution” of the rejection letters for what he said are political purposes.

“Politicized is the right word for it,” he said.

Swope Construction was co-founded by Chandler Swope, the Republican nominee for West Virginia’s 6th Senatorial District seat, which is being vacated by Cole.

Gatewood said the letters are “correspondence used in the ordinary course of construction project management” and do not reflect on the company’s or the subcontractor’s overall performance on the project.

“Swope, however, will not manage this, or any other project, in the newspaper or on social media,” Gatewood said. “Our company is performing the project on a quality basis and delivering a great product to our customer, the Wayne County Board of Education.”

The Crum school construction project is featured in a current Justice campaign ad, which contends that Cole, as state Senate president, cut a deal with the House of Delegates to repeal prevailing wage laws “to cut workers’ pay and encourage hiring out-of-state contractors to hire out-of-state workers.”

The ad’s video shows the immigrant workers on the Crum school project and was taken from a video that local resident Shane Dillon posted on YouTube this summer.

According to documents filed with the U.S. Wage and Hour Division, the workers are employed by Greystar Construction, a subcontractor from Roanoke, Virginia.

In requesting the cease-and-desist, the Cole campaign sent an email to stations last week contending that the ad creates the impression the jobs went to the foreign workers because of the repeal of prevailing wage. However, the campaign noted, the Crum school project was actually bid out prior to the May 5 effective date of the repeal, and all workers in the video were paid prevailing wage rates.

Records filed with the Federal Communications Commission cite a response from the ad’s producer noting that candidate advertising is not subject to editorial review by stations, and that the determination was made to allow the ad to continue to air.

Reach Phil Kabler at philk@wvgazettemail.com, 304-348-1220 or follow @PhilKabler on Twitter.