Issues found at another school built by Neenan Co. |

Issues found at another school built by Neenan Co.

By Eric Gorski and David Olinger, The Denver Post

Structural issues have emerged at another school being constructed by the Neenan Co., a major builder of rural Colorado schools, including Craig Middle School, that already has admitted making mistakes that closed an $18.9 million school in Meeker.

Neenan has agreed to pay for repairs at Monte Vista High School in southern Colorado “to stiffen it up in case of a catastrophic event like an earthquake,” the district’s superintendent, Dwayne Newman, told The Denver Post on Monday.

He said Neenan plans to strengthen the connections between columns and a large metal beam in the gym, as well as perform additional work on the foundation.

The school district received a $27.6 million state grant to help pay for the new high school — which is scheduled to open in August — as well as an elementary-school renovation and addition.

Neenan already has agreed to a Colorado Department of Education request that it hire an outside firm to review the structural engineering on 15 school projects that won $150 million in grants through the Building Excellent Schools Today program, or BEST.

Issues with the school in Monte Vista, however, came to light in mid-September during a separate outside review, said Andy Boian, a spokesman for Neenan.

Newman said Neenan offered an outside review after problems surfaced at Meeker’s school, which was closed last summer when school officials learned it was built to the wrong safety codes and at risk of collapse in extreme weather.

Newman said the Monte Vista high school was built to the correct occupancy code.

Neenan did not agree with the proposed fix in Monte Vista but agreed to carry it out anyway, Boian said. He said that neither Neenan nor the outside reviewer — Computerized Structural Design — considered the situation a “life-safety issue.”

“This revolves around a difference of opinion, and we opted to go with the recommendation of the peer review engineer firm,” Boian said.

Neenan president Randy Myers is scheduled to appear Thursday at a Monte Vista school board meeting, part of a week-long goodwill tour of 16 communities in which Neenan has done school and medical building business.

One stop will be tonight in Meeker, where the school board will get an elementary-school update and possibly vote on repairs, which Neenan has agreed to pay for.

Boian said he recommended Myers make the tour “to reassure these boards their schools are safe.”

Boian said Neenan will expand the number of past school projects subject to independent peer review of structural engineering. He said other projects will get that scrutiny “on a case-by-case basis,” including those under construction.

Neenan also said Monday that it will review and confirm the credentials of its licensed engineers and architects after the disclosure last week that it had hired a structural engineer with a lapsed license in 2007.

The state Department of Regulatory Agencies reprimanded the engineer, Gary Howell, and last week opened an investigation into his work on the Meeker school.

Neenan fired Howell that same day. A different Neenan engineer worked on the Monte Vista project, Boian said.

Because of the problems in Meeker, the company had previously announced other reforms — including third-party peer reviews of its structural engineering designs and drawings on new projects.

“I am disappointed in the errors we made in constructing Meeker Elementary School, and I want to assure everyone that we will take any and all steps necessary to make it right,” Myers said in a statement.

Neenan has become a major player in Colorado school construction in the past decade.

In Conejos County, the Sanford School District has a planning agreement with Neenan but has not chosen a builder for a major renovation that has won a BEST grant, said Superintendent Kevin Edgar.

Edgar said “of course” he is concerned about problems at the Meeker school, but Neenan “has been great to work with through the master-planning process.” The district is among the stops on Myers’ tour this week.

Neenan has done extensive work renovating and expanding a multi-grade school in the Primero Reorganized School District RE-2, in western Las Animas County.

Superintendent Duane Denny said the district has not formally requested a more in-depth review, but “we probably will have them come do an inspection.”

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