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“IT WAS A RUSH JOB”
Citing flaws in the construction of the Encinal Community Center and having reached a lawsuit settlement of an undisclosed amount, La Salle County commissioners agreed last week to spend a portion of the proceeds on replacing the facility’s ventilation system.
The building opened in 2020 at the height of the coronavirus pandemic. Its main hall is designed as a multipurpose facility to host community gatherings, family events and ceremonies. County commissioners have held meetings in the building.
The community center was built by Cordova Construction during the county government administration of former judge Joel Rodriguez although under the same county commissioners as presently hold office.
The building includes the offices of the justice of the peace and constable.
La Salle County Judge Leodoro Martinez III, who took office in January, said last week that he was unable to find any record indicating how much the construction project cost.
Since the community center opened three years ago, a number of construction quality issues have been raised with commissioners, notably the apparent failure of the heating and air conditioning system, which is reportedly inadequate for the building’s interior volume.
Pct. 2 Commissioner Jack Alba said at an April 24 court meeting that he believes designers failed to take the high ceilings into account when measuring the building for its ventilation needs.
“I don’t know if they shorted us on tonnage,” the commissioner said, “or if they didn’t count on the height.”
Engineer Jorge Martinez, representing Laredo-based Topsite Civil Group LLC and under contract with La Salle County for several roadwork and engineering projects, told the court that the building’s ventilation system appeared to be operating at only 40 percent efficiency and that a new system with a capacity of more than ten additional tons should be installed.
Judge Martinez said last week that a lawsuit by La Salle County against Cordova for compensation in light of the building flaws was settled during the Rodriguez administration with an amount whose total has been withheld from the public.
“We learned when looking for records for this building that the parties signed a non-disclosure agreement,” the county judge said. “We cannot reveal the amount of the settlement or any details related to it.”
The judge noted, however, that the settlement reached between the previous administration and Cordova was “divided into subcontractors.”
Public statements made during the April 24 commissioners’ court meeting indicated but did not confirm that the settlement amount exceeded one and a half million dollars.
The county judge declined to comment on the figure, citing the non-disclosure agreement.
The court had previously passed a motion to use a portion of the county’s settlement over the building for repairs. April’s estimate of over $132,000 for a new ventilation system has now been made part of that plan.
The court also approved using the Texas Buy Board for procurement, thereby eliminating the need to seek individual bids.
In an interview on Friday, April 28, the county judge said he believes air conditioning is only one of several flaws in the structure.
“The air conditioning is a major issue, that’s true,” Martinez said, “but there are other problems that we have had to address. The roof leaked, so we had that fixed. It’s been redone. Drainage is also a problem. The foundation of the community center is lower than the ground in the immediate area. Water is draining towards the building.”
“I went there to see it for myself,” the county judge said. “There had been some rain, and there was water pooling at least six inches deep, up against the side of the building.”
Topsite lists roof replacement at the community center and neighboring Encinal Public Library among its ongoing projects. The community center and library were built at the same time.
“We also had to tear up the parking lot and do that all over again,” Martinez said. We had to repair that foundation.”
The county judge said he believes the people of Encinal deserve a community center of better quality than was given to them.
“It’s disappointing to us that it was a rush job,” Martinez said. “Someone cut corners, building that place. It’s a good thing that we got some of the money back. It’s actually a beautiful building, and it should serve many uses. Our work to put it right has begun.”
The decision to spend a portion of the lawsuit settlement on the HVAC system was unanimous on a motion by Comm. Raul Ayala, seconded by Comm. Noel Niavez.