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CCAC contacted contractor 3 months before pipes burst

| Monday, Feb. 3, 2014, 11:45 p.m.
Justin Merriman | Tribune-Review
Donna Imhoff, president of CCAC's Allegheny Campus, shows water damage to the campus' K. Leroy Irvis Science Center on January 10, 2014. A pipe burst over the Christmastime holiday. School officials had to find new locations for damaged classrooms before the semester begins on January 13, 2014.

Community College of Allegheny County officials knew cold air was seeping into the $28 million K. Leroy Irvis Science Center more than three months before water pipes burst and caused hundreds of thousands of dollars in damage.

Preliminary estimates from a restoration contractor suggest damage to the North Side facility could top $350,000, said college spokeswoman Elizabeth Johnston. It opened last spring.

Community College of Allegheny County records obtained by the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review show college officials were in contact with L.S. Brinker, the Detroit-based general contractor for the science center, about the problem on the fifth floor of the building as early as Sept. 19. CCAC closed on Dec. 21 for Christmas break. Officials returned on Jan. 2 to find pipes above a fifth-floor chemical storage area had burst, sending water streaming throughout the western end of the building.

Brinker senior project manager Richard McLaren previously declined to comment. Neither he nor Brinker President James J. Cole responded to requests for comment on Monday. Johnston said CCAC is withholding $180,000, the final payment on Brinker's contract, and CCAC notified the contractor in a certified letter that it intends to pursue damages.

Bill Clifford, who teaches construction law in Duquesne University's School of Law, said there can be questions about whether responsibility for such issues stem from the design or construction of a building.

“The more immediate issue is to define the problem and how to solve it. The owner should get an independent person to tell them what the problem is, whose fault it is and what it will take to fix it,” Clifford said.

CCAC correspondence suggests the problem, which college officials insisted the contractor remedy, was never resolved.

The school's Sept. 19 letter to the contractor claimed damage from outside air drifting into the building was mounting. The letter to McLaren and Cole said the building was not “weather tight,” and outside air was causing condensation to form and drip onto ceiling tiles on the fifth floor of the building.

Anthony L. DiTommaso, CCAC's vice president for compliance and legal services, wrote that the school had not yet determined repair costs, but insisted the problem “must be immediately addressed by Brinker.”

In an email to Cole and McLaren dated Dec. 19, DiTommaso again referenced the cold air leeching into the fifth floor.

“We understand that Brinker is denying responsibility for this condition,” he wrote, adding the school had hired an independent expert to evaluate the problem and determine the cause.

When the pipes burst, officials were forced to relocate classes while workers cleaned the labs, took down drywall and checked for mold.

“We hope to have students back in the labs by next week, but we're still assessing damages, evaluating the area and ordering small equipment that had to be replaced,” said CCAC Allegheny Campus President Donna Imhoff.

Johnston said the school will continue to monitor air quality every two weeks to ensure the building remains safe. It plans to refurbish damaged cabinets in the labs during spring break.

The science center includes labs and classrooms for programs in biology, chemistry and more.

Debra Erdley is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-320-7996 or derdley@tribweb.com.

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