HED:Milam school addition delayed as contractor files for bankruptcy

By Monique Harrison

Daily Journal

Construction of a 30-classroom academic building at Milam Intermediate School is expected to be delayed for at least five months because project contractor Doug Walton has filed for bankruptcy, Tupelo Public School District officials said Tuesday.

The $1.9 million project was originally set to be completed by July 18, but now district officials said the best they can hope for is a December completion.

A delay of eight months or longer is also possible, said officials, who estimated about 45 percent of the project remains to be done.

Tupelo Public Schools Superintendent Mike Vinson said the delay will not disrupt classes, which begin today. The school houses classes for fifth- and sixth-graders.

"We're where we were last year," Vinson said. "We still have the same space available. Obviously, we would like to be moved in (to the new building) but we aren't. I don't believe this is detrimental to our program. We're still going full speed. We're going to let the courts resolve this."

Tupelo Public School Board attorney Jamie Barnett said Walton's decision to file for bankruptcy means he has defaulted on the job.

"Clearly, if he's filing for bankruptcy we believe he ... will not finish the job," Barnett told the board during Tuesday's regularly scheduled meeting.

If that's the case, Walton's responsibilities will be assumed by United States Fidelity and Guaranty, the bonding company hired for the project.

Bonding companies agree at the start of a project to accept responsibility if a contractor does not meet expectations. In a unanimous vote, the school board directed Barnett to ask USF&G to find a new contractor to finish the work.

But Walton's attorney said his client filed for personal bankruptcy in a last-ditch attempt to keep the job - not to lose it.

"If you want to terminate a contract, you just pick up and leave - abandon the site," said Jackson attorney George Thomas. "There's no need to file for bankruptcy."

Walton had workers on the site as recently as Tuesday, said Thomas, who blamed Tupelo architect Rud Robison Jr. of Staub, Robison, Williams Architects for construction delays.

He said Robison examined work and then at a later stage declared it unacceptable and ordered it redone.

"It's going to cost us about $200,000 out of our pockets to fix problems that the architect should have caught at an earlier time," Thomas said.

Robison said he did his job.

"I looked out for this school district," Robison said. "I did what I needed to in order to see that quality work was done. That's what I'm supposed to do."

Thomas said his client still wants to do the job.

"Part of it's a selfish reason," Thomas said. "If a bonding company comes in and takes over, (Walton) will never get another bond company to take him again. And if a contractor can't get bonded, he can't get work."

Already, the roofing company subcontracted to do the job has quit because it hasn't been paid.

"Work hasn't been done in about six weeks," Robison said.

Thomas said payment hasn't been made to several subcontractors because Robison is holding Walton's payment.

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