The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

April 14, 2012

Court fight brewing over JHS demolition

By Kelsey Ryan
news@joplinglobe.com

JOPLIN, Mo. — A court fight between the contractor connected to the demolition of Joplin High School and the Joplin School District could be brewing.

The contractor, Troy Langley, president of Urban Metropolitan Development of Atlanta, Ga., is suing the district in federal court for lack of progress payments and the cost to pump water out of the basement of Joplin High School. The contractor is seeking more than $500,000 in damages.

The district is considering its own action.

Superintendent C.J. Huff said the company’s progress at JHS has slowed. If the job isn’t done soon, the district might consider legal action, he said.

VETTING PROCESS

Mike Johnson, director of construction for Joplin schools, said the district, when it hired Urban Metro, didn’t know much about the company because it is from out of state. In addition to reference checks, the district searched state and federal debarment lists for references to Urban Metro, he said.

The company worked in tornado-stricken Tuscaloosa, Ala. Johnson said he spoke with the city manager there, who gave the company excellent reviews.

Johnson said concerns were raised by local contractors who wanted the job.

“We heard lots of rumors,” he said. “Every lead brought to our attention, we chased down for validity. We didn’t find anything out negative.”

Johnson said the Federal Emergency Management Agency advised the district to adhere to federal procurement guidelines by advertising jobs as it normally does in addition to advertising on a website for minority- and women-owned businesses. Urban Metro is a minority-owned business.

“Our understanding at the time we let bids was if we stubbed our toe in any way, it would disqualify us from any future federal funding on the project. We should have found out that wasn’t accurate, but we were trying to be very careful. Our understanding from FEMA was if you disqualify a vendor, you need to be able to defend that in federal court,” he said.

MULTIPLE COMPANIES

An online search shows that Langley has owned at least three companies. According to records from the Georgia secretary of state’s office, Urban Metropolitan Development LLC received its certificate of organization in December 2002.

Troy Langley Environmental Inc. was incorporated in February 2000 and was dissolved on July 9, 2005.

Another company, Troy Langley Construction Company Inc., was incorporated in February 1997. It was dissolved on July 9, 2005. It was later reinstated in October 2006 and was “dissolved or its certificate of authority revoked” on May 16, 2008, for failing to file its annual registration.

Langley, in a telephone interview, said the company has worked at other disaster sites, including the 2011 tornado in Pratt City, Ala.

When asked questions about Urban Metro’s work and his background as a business owner, Langley referred inquiries to his website.

ALAMEDA

A year ago, Urban Metro’s subsidiary, Urban Metro Environmental, demolished vacant apartments at a decommissioned naval base called Alameda Point, according to Miriam Delagrange, development manager for the city of Alameda, Calif.

Delagrange said the company was awarded $279,000 to demolish the buildings. According to city documents, the company was the lowest of nine bidders by more than $125,000. The bids included abatement and demolition costs.

Urban Metro submitted bids that were nearly $400,000 lower than the next lowest bid for the Joplin projects, Huff said.

Delagrange, in a telephone interview, said that before starting work but after being awarded the bid, the company said the project required additional work because it rained for a month. Delagrange responded that the buildings had been open to the weather for five years.

The contract the city had with Urban Metro stated that the project cost could not be increased by more than 10 percent, but Alameda ended up allowing a change order for a maximum cap of a little less than half of what was requested, she said.

The company proceeded to do a wet demolition, in which water is sprayed on the structure during demolition to prevent asbestos dust from becoming airborne. The process, Delagrange said, ends up being a lot more expensive than the preferred method of removing the substance first and proceeding with regular demolition. A drawback of the wet method is that it contaminates all of the material.

The change caused the original debris hauler to drop out. Costs increased.

“They ended up with a couple of different companies hauling. The cost was tens of thousands or $100,000 more than the contract with me,” she said. “We got notices and liens filed against the project asking for a holdback of money after we had released the first set of payments.”

The city held about $143,000 that was left on the contract pending the resolution of stop notices, Delagrange said. Additionally, the issues took longer to resolve because of payment claims.

“They were not paying their subcontractors, so the subcontractors filed claims against the city and Urban Metro for payment. The amount they were asking for was more than the original contract amount,” Delagrange said.

Several subcontractors who worked with Urban Metro on the schools in Joplin claimed earlier this year that they had not been paid. The district said those issues are between the subcontractors and Urban Metro.

Delagrange said Urban is allowed to bid on future projects because the company is not on the debarred list for federal contracts.

“We have not heard of other (similar situations), but then there would have been questions as to letting a contract with them. Legally, we’re required to give it to the lowest qualified bidder,” she said.

She said she is not sure whether Urban Metro’s subcontractors were ever paid.

“We are done,” Delagrange said of the city’s contract with Urban Metro, which was resolved on Jan. 26 when the city released the withheld funds. “It’s a relief that we were able to close this project out.”

Johnson said he did not know about the events in Alameda or about the previous companies owned by Langley.

“We didn’t know about that particular issue (with Alameda), there’s no way we could have,” Huff said in an interview last week. “We checked references, projects and did the whole Google thing.”

ASBESTOS RECORD

The Western North Carolina Regional Air Quality Agency has an online record for an outstanding violation involving Troy Langley for improper asbestos containment. The agency released additional records about the violation to the Globe upon request.

In 2000, the agency received a report that contaminated materials taken to a landfill from the Grove Arcade Building Renovation project in Asheville, N.C., had not been properly contained or wetted.

Troy Langley Construction Co. contracted with Waste Management to haul and dispose of the material. Upon hearing of the complaint, the problem was corrected. The agency found Langley’s company in violation of a North Carolina statute. In 2005, a summary judgment was issued against Langley for $10,000.

“Any misdeeds under another company name are not enough (to disqualify), but had we known about some mishandling of asbestos, it would have been more of a concern,” Johnson said.

COURT CASES

When asked if his companies had been involved in litigation before, Langley said he had no comment and referred to his lawyer. Then he said that “construction is marred in litigation.” He said he couldn’t remember if he has been involved in any court cases.

Online searches show Langley’s companies have been involved in at least two cases. In 2006, Troy Langley Construction Co.. filed suit against Nationwide Mortgage Services for payment over demolition of a property at 2000 Perry Boulevard in Atlanta. Langley won the case initially, but in the appeals process, the court decided to “reverse the trial court’s grant of summary judgment to Langley.”

Langley entered into a contract with the city of Atlanta on Dec. 18, 2002, for demolition at the same site for work that the company had completed already in July 2001. The project was through a Community Development block grant program for $262,000, according to court records.

In a 2003 case, Langley v. National Labor Group Inc., National Labor Group originally sued Langley for breach of contract for allegedly not paying workers who performed asbestos and lead removal. Langley filed a counterclaim for abusive litigation and other claims.

The Georgia Court of Appeals ruled in favor of National, upholding the judgment by the lower court.