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Contractor out thousands of dollars after dispute with Huffman ISD

HOUSTON – A local contractor said he’s still waiting to receive $800,000 after completing work for a new elementary school in Huffman Independent School District.

“We went out there, we did all this work, we’ve worked weekends, we worked nights, you know, to get our portions done and we’re completely finished and we still haven’t gotten any information on when we’re going to get paid,” said Jeff Underwood, president of Underwood Sheetmetal Inc. 

His company, along with his sister company, Peak Roofing, were subcontracted by Paradigm Construction to help build Falcon Ridge Elementary School in Huffman.

READ: Lawsuit against Huffman ISD

He said they completed the work in September, but have yet to see a dime.

“It’s tough because I’ve been in the business for many, many years and I have never been stung like this before where they’re saying, 'We’re not going to able to tell you when we’re going to pay you,'” Underwood said. “I’ve never gone through this before, especially with a school district, I mean a school district, you would think if they got bond money and they got state money, that they would pay it out as it goes.”

In 2016, voters approved a $44 million bond project to upgrade schools and build a new school in Huffman ISD. About $29 million was used to build Falcon Ridge Elementary, which opened on the first day of this school year.

The district entered a contract with Paradigm Construction, the company in charge of building the school, last year. Paradigm hired subcontractors like Underwood’s company to help build the 111,000 square foot school.

According to a lawsuit filed in September of this year, Paradigm said it was contracted to do $21 million of work that was designed by the architecture firm, Huckabee & Associates, Inc. and have it completed before July 19, 2018, subject to time extensions. 

The general contractor accuses Huffman ISD of failing to, “make timely payments under the terms of the Contract and in compliance with the Prompt Payment Act,” according to the lawsuit.

The company said it was owed more than $4 million when it filed the petition in September, but their attorney said that number has jumped to $6 million due to outstanding change orders, delay damages, disruption damages, acceleration costs and Prompt Payment Act interest.

Paradigm also alleges in the court documents that Huffman ISD brought in a third party, Bond Program Management Services (BPMS), to manage the project after the bidding process and without Paradigm’s consent.

“Indeed if Huffman ISD had disclosed that BPMS, a program manager with virtually no experience, would manage this project on behalf of Huffman ISD, Paradigm would not have submitted a bid,” alleges the lawsuit.

According to their website, BPMS lists  Falcon Ridge Elementary and two other Huffman ISD schools as their recent projects.  

On their website, BPMS  said they, “Work with you to guide the selection of applicable program management tasks to ensure your needs are met without wasting valuable project dollars. Working as a team with project architects and engineers allows designers to focus on what they do best — design, while BPMS concentrates on the multiple project management tasks.”

In court documents, Paradigm accused BPMS of causing issues and said it, “disrupt, frustrate, actively interfere and engage in arbitrary and capricious actions, with disregard for Paradigm’s contractual rights, thereby preventing Paradigm’s performance under the Contract and causing Paradigm to incur significant additional costs.”

KPRC Channel 2 sent an email and left a voicemail with BPMS.

Here is a statement from Huffman Independent School District:

“The Huffman Independent School District is aware of the lawsuit filed by Paradigm. We are disappointed that Paradigm chose this step, and the District disputes the allegations contained in the lawsuit. We entered a contract with Paradigm to complete our new elementary school in July. However, as we begin the new school year, the building remains unfinished and we believe has significant nonconforming work. The District will defend this lawsuit and intends to pursue its own claims against Paradigm.”

The law firm Peck & Abramson is representing Paradigm.  One of their attorney’s, Denis Ducran, told KPRC2 that students were able to go to school on the first day of class for 2018.

As for subcontractors like Underwood, he just wants to know where the money is.

“I’ve dealt with probably every school district within this in the area of Harris County and surrounding areas and never had this issue,” said Underwood. “We’re sitting here and waiting, I can’t even buy product from certain companies because I owe money right now and they got me on hold.” 

With litigation involved, Underwood is concerned it may take a while before he and other subcontractors see any money. 

 “It impacts my employees because I got to be able to pay them all the way through the end of the year so we’re getting pretty tight right now due to the issue of not getting paid for this one job,” explained Underwood. “This job has been finished for three months, and I’ve already paid these guys for that, so it’s a big issue, it is.