Schools' Repair Costs in Millions; First Coast, Mandarin Schools Will Get Air-Conditioning System Fix; Problem May Date to Design

Article excerpt

Byline: TIA MITCHELL, The Times-Union

Duval County taxpayers will spend $10 million to repair the county's two newest high schools because of what school officials say are problems that have existed since First Coast and Mandarin were built.

The now-defunct architecture firm that designed the high schools has faced several lawsuits and been blamed for causing similar air-conditioning system problems at dozens of schools around the state.

Though Duval County school officials aren't directly blaming W.R. Frizzell Architects for the problems at First Coast and Mandarin high schools, the problems apparent today also were noted years before. As early as 1995, five years after Mandarin High opened, the school system's chief of facilities discussed suing the architects for perceived design flaws in the air-conditioning system, which caused water to leak and mildew to form on ceiling tiles.

The school system now is preparing for a $10 million joint project that will replace the schools' air-conditioning systems, increase heat and moisture protection to the buildings' exteriors and pay for other upgrades. About half of that work is scheduled maintenance, and the rest addresses what school officials say are issues present when the schools opened in August 1990 at a collective cost of $65 million.

Many school district officials who would have had oversight when the two schools were being built no longer are employed by the school system, and current officials interviewed Thursday said they didn't know if the school system ever attempted to take action against the architect.

"Apparently it's been ongoing, and when they built First Coast and Mandarin, whoever did the design was at fault," said School Board member Tommy Hazouri, whose district includes First Coast.

The renovations could begin at the schools this summer and could be completed by January 2006. The project will be funded over two budget years.

Hazouri said the possibility of repeating flaws at multiple schools is one of the risks of reusing designs as a cost-cutting measure in new school construction.

"You do these sister schools and, if one has a problem, it's like a twin, the other does, too," he said.

W.R. Frizzell Architects filed for bankruptcy protection in 1996, shortly after the Palm Beach County school district filed a lawsuit. The company no longer is in business.

Both Jacksonville schools were based on Frizzell designs that already had been used to build two high schools each in Lee and Orange counties. …