Letter to Fort Smith School Board reviews water problems at Peak Innovation Center

by Tina Alvey Dale ([email protected]) 889 views 

Part of the March 2023 flooding inside the Peak Innovation Center.

The construction company responsible for the initial Peak Innovation Center project for Fort Smith Public Schools is striking back at insinuations that flooding incidents that have plagued the center since its opening are the result of construction mishaps.

Danny Haynal, vice president of Turn Key Construction Management, emailed a letter to members of the Fort Smith Board of Education on Wednesday (June 7) with records of their version of events in an attempt to aid an independent, third-party investigation into repeated flooding at Peak. (Link here for a PDF of the letter.)

The center has flooded three times since it opened March 28, 2022. At the May 22 school board meeting, school board members raised the idea of a third-party investigation of the flooding problem.

Turn Key was hired in 2020 as the construction manager at risk for the project to construct the initial phase of Peak. Turn Key President Sandy Dixon was elected to the school board in May 2022 and is serving her first term on the board.

Much has been discussed regarding 42-inch drain pipes at the center, which were installed prior to the building’s completion as a measure to avoid water pooling on the property and have now been recommended to be removed as one of the measures to fix the flooding issues. Questions arose in the May 22 board meeting regarding who recommended and approved the installation of those pipes.

In the letter to the board, Haynal includes documents showing that Corgan and school district administration asked Halff Associates – the project’s engineers – to verify the sizing of the pipes before giving the final approval to move forward. Haynal said it was Turn Key’s understanding that when they received the final design that this check had been completed by the design professionals. That point was further driven home in a letter, dated March 19, 2021, from Friday Law Firm on behalf of FSPS, Haynal said.

“The District agrees with your letter in so far as Turn Key, as a contractor, does not have an affirmative obligation to advise the District of any believed errors, inconsistencies, or omissions. This affirmative obligation exists prior to starting work… Turn Key has made its concerns clear. Nevertheless, the District, in consultation with Corgan and Morrison-Shipley, has reached the informed conclusion that the current grading and drainage plan incorporated into the Contract Documents is sufficient,” the letter from Friday Law Firm states.

A letter from Halff Engineering, dated May 12, regarding the June 7, 2022, flooding at Peak states that the primary cause of that flooding was plywood forms left inside the drainage structure. However, that same letter states “that the installation of two 42-inch pipes could be aggravating drainage at the site.” They then recommend removing those as soon as possible.

Haynal said Turn Key contests that the plywood forms were the primary cause of the flooding. He backs this by saying that according to the National Centers for Environmental Information, the flood event on June 7, 2022, was 1.04 inches more than the rain event on May 23, that caused water to come into the center for the second time.

“Considering how close the building flooding like the prior flood on March 23, 2023, it seems like the primary cause of the water backing up in the east lot has more to do with the size of the pipes instead of the fact that part of one pipe was partially blocked off during the first flood event,” Haynal said in the letter to the board.

Haynal also looks at a May 11 report from HSA Engineering, the firm hired by the school district to investigate the Peak Center’s flooding in March. In that report, there is discussion about the water intrusion coming up at the interface between the existing slab and the existing grade beam. Haynal says this situation was brought to the attention of the district by the contractor during construction.

In a Jan. 19, 2021, meeting Turn Key said that since the beginning of the project they have noted, and made known water migrating to the top of the slab and noted that it was water underneath the floor coming up because the floor slab did not have a vapor barrier.

”This condition should be addressed now as it is serious and may slow the project later if not remedied,” representatives of Turn Key said during the meeting.

Turn Key noted that early borings conducted by GTS for under slab investigation produced borings that were so saturated that soupy mud was extracted. Open trenches cut and excavated for sanitary sewer drain lines were producing enough water that they needed to be pumped daily.

“While a French drain along the north elevation may satisfy the immediate need for providing an alternate route for the groundwater to travel, this may not solve the water that exists under the raised slab areas in question. The grade beam exterior foundation walls are at least two feet below exterior grade and water may be driven by the presence of hydrostatic pressure from the hillside above,” Turn Key reps said during the meeting. “Whatever action is taken to alleviate the issues, Turn Key Construction recommends that the solution to remediate the water be considered and acted upon now before proceeding with the erection of metal stud walls and consider removing the existing concrete sealer if a topical solution is required or recommended.”

Haynal said in the letter to the board that Turn Key “repeatedly raised the red flag” over water issue concerns with the building. They were told in a letter from the Friday Law Firm that it was appropriate for the district to follow the advice of its design professionals, whose job it was to design and engineer a project. It was Turn Key’s job to construct it, the letter from the law firm said.

Turn Key on March 4, 2021 presented district officials with a letter stating they would have no liability or responsibility in the event that the proposed French drain system does not fully and finally resolve the moisture problem, Haynal said.

“In conclusion, now that the project has experienced three separate flood events, Turn Key is pointing out to the board that we were ‘concerned about the adequacy and sufficiency of the plans of the Owner, Architect, and Engineer to address the moisture problem, and that Turn Key is further concerned about the wisdom of proceeding forward with construction before it is certain that the moisture problem has been addressed and resolved.’ The fact that it has been implied that Turn Key’s work has been insufficient and is the result of the flood is incorrect. Turn Key completed our scope of work on the project per the drawings and specifications to the satisfaction of the District and design team and has all the inspections and reports to fully back that up,” Haynal said.

Turn Key’s letter to the board also noted the company would welcome the chance to present their documentation to an unbiased third-party investigator.

Dee Blackwell, school board president, said she has received Turn Key’s letter and is reviewing it.

Dalton Person, school board secretary, said the Turn Key letter to the school board confirms his conviction that the board owes a duty to the taxpayers to find out what went wrong in the design and construction of the Peak Innovation Center’s drainage system, regardless of how long it takes to do so.

“As an initial matter, it’s disappointing to me that the drainage issues at the Peak Innovation Center continue to overshadow the transformative learning and workforce development now occurring in east Fort Smith that will benefit our students and the Arkansas River Valley region for decades. I have full faith in the district’s administration and believe they should be evaluated primarily on the education of the students in our district, not on the deficiencies of construction projects,” Person said. “In my opinion, a truly independent third party is needed to evaluate the work of all the parties involved in the Peak drainage project, including architects, contractors, engineers, project managers, and the school district. Until we have an unbiased picture of what transpired, I will refrain from placing blame on any particular party.”

Shari Cooper, FSPS director of communications, said district staff could not comment on letters emailed to board members.

“On Wednesday, June 21, 2023, the board of education will discuss the possibility of hiring a third party auditor and so we reserve comment until the board takes action,” Cooper said.