Preston judge orders mediation in West Preston suit

KINGWOOD — Preston Circuit Judge Steve  Shaffer has ordered all parties in the lawsuit over construction of West Preston School to attend mediation in November.

Mediation efforts in May failed. Some of the attorneys in the suit said at a hearing Tuesday that not all the parties stayed throughout that session and some have been difficult to schedule for further mediation.

Shaffer ordered the November mediation after most parties said they would be available and set a February trial date, in case no agreement is reached. He also ordered the attorneys to have people with full settlement authority at the mediation and to mediate in good faith.

“It appears from what’s been [said] today if I don’t direct it, it won’t be done,” Shaffer said of the mediation. Attorney Samuel H. Simon, who represents four of the parties, said the problem was finding a date everyone was available, and it was not a deliberate attempt to delay mediation.

In January 2017, the Preston County Board of Education sued Capitol Valley Contracting Inc., Architectural Vision Group Ltd., Lewis Land Profession Inc.  and Great American Insurance Co., alleging the  school wasn’t built properly.

It later added GPD Group and Ebersole Structural Engineers Ltd. to the suit. GPD had acquired Ebersole, which is dissolved.

The board seeks, “recovery of damages related to deficient site work, breach of contract, professional negligence, bad faith and negligence surrounding the design, construction and contract administration during the construction of improvements and additions to the West Preston Middle School and Valley Elementary.… ”

The suit says AVG was negligent in its design of the foundation and Capitol Valley failed to perform site work in accordance with project “drawings, plans and specifications.”

All those being sued deny wrongdoing.

Attorney Kenneth Webb Jr., who represents the board of education, said Tuesday he believes the suit can be settled through mediation.

West Preston was built with funds from the 2010 construction bond passed by Preston County taxpayers. Construction delays and cost overruns ran the final cost to more than $14.9 million.

Judge Shaffer disclosed to the parties that in the 1990s he served on the Preston BOE. “But I’ve also sued the board,” he said, referring to his private practice before being elected judge. He also noted that, when the suit was filed, his former law partner’s wife, Crissy Estep, served on the board.

But Shaffer said he has no knowledge of the suit other than what is in court records.

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