Construction at Glenn Heights school where walls blew down is scrutinized

Glenn Heights, TX - Officials are looking into the construction methods of a Glenn Heights elementary school after an engineer assessing tornado damage said he found “horrific” problems this week with how it was built.

“The inspection of the construction quality of the damaged school will take considerable time due to the size of the school and scope of the damage,” Red Oak ISD spokeswoman Adi Bryant said in a statement Thursday. Some of the walls at Donald T. Shields Elementary fell down during Saturday’s storms.

The company that built the school in 2008 was Ratcliff Constructors, the statement said. Ratcliff has built numerous other schools in Texas, according to its website and other sources.

Ratcliff, as of 2014, had completed nearly $200 million worth of projects for the Dallas Independent School District, according to an article that year inConstruction Today, an industry magazine.

Officials of Ratcliff Constructors did not return repeated messages Thursday. But the CEO and chairman of a related business, Ratcliff Cos., said company officials are looking into the issues raised this week.

“I talked to the executive vice president about the matter; he’s talked to the architect of record,” Robert T. Ratcliff Sr. said Thursday. “They’re looking through their records from way back when, when this thing was built.”

The school district’s statement identified the architect on the project as Corgan & Associates and the engineering firm as L.A. Fuess. Neither returned messages Thursday.

The engineer who faulted the school’s construction, Timothy Marshall, was volunteering as part of a damage survey team created by the Fort Worth office of the National Weather Service.

“They did not use any kind of bolt attachments,” he said of how the school’s walls were attached to its foundation. “They tried to nail a steel bottom plate to the concrete.” The walls were not fastened to adjoining walls or to the roof, he said. He estimated the winds that brought the walls down to be about 85 or 90 mph.

“All I want to do is say, ‘Hey, we’ve got a problem here,’” Marshall said, explaining why he spoke out. “I don’t want to see kids killed, and I’m glad school wasn’t in session when this happened.”

He said the school’s faults are just one example of the “rampant irresponsibleness” he has seen in how many homes and buildings were built, as he has surveyed damage in Glenn Heights, Garland, Midlothian and Sunnyvale.

Marshall, who is also a meteorologist, helps train Weather Service employees on how to assess damage after storms. Often, a structure’s construction faults are hidden until a storm exposes them, he says.

The Construction Today article said that, in addition to Ratcliff Constructors’ work for DISD, it had done more than $140 million worth for Frisco ISD and $125 million for Eagle Mountain-Saginaw ISD.

“We hire from a select group of repeat subcontractors who perform well for us that work well together and provide the highest level of quality,” the article quotes a Ratcliff Constructors senior project manager, Scott Trcka, as saying.

Red Oak ISD’s statement Thursday said that Shields Elementary appears to be the only school that Ratcliff Constructors has built for the district.

Source: Dallas Morning News