Contractors file lawsuit claiming Huffman ISD didn't pay for finished job

HOUSTON – Contractors who worked on a new elementary school that opened in Huffman Independent School District said they want to know why they still haven’t been paid. 

Subcontractors who worked on Falcon Ridge Elementary School said the district hasn't paid them since June. On Monday night, several of them went to the school board meeting to express their frustrations to the board. 

“It’s getting close to the end of the year and we need the money,” said Jeff Underwood, president of Underwood Sheet Metal Inc.

Paradigm Construction won the multimillion-dollar contract last year. The company said it finished the job so the school could open on the first day, but alleged that the district stopped paying the company in June. 

Huffman ISD released the following statement: 

“The District entered a contract to have its new elementary school finished this past July.  As the project stands today with half a school year gone by, we still have an incomplete building with what we believe are serious construction defects. Like many small districts, we hired an owner’s representative with construction expertise to protect us on our building projects.  The job of actually building Falcon Ridge Elementary School was given to Paradigm, and the District intends to hold Paradigm to the contract the parties entered.

"The District and Paradigm are involved in a lawsuit and have a dispute over payments owed for what we believe is an incomplete and nonconforming construction project.  We are also investigating our own claims against Paradigm.  The District is not a party to any agreements between the contractor and its subcontractors. The District is allowed under its contract with Paradigm to withhold payments in order to cover costs for completing and remediating the project.  The District believes that if the work had been performed on time and in a non-defective manner, the District would not have been forced to withhold payments.  The District has a responsibility to ensure this taxpayer funded construction project is finished correctly.  

"In late January 2018, many months after Hurricane Harvey, Paradigm made a written request for a weather delay of about one week, less than four days of which were attributed to the hurricane.  While Paradigm was allowed to claim numerous rain delays throughout the project as set forth in the contract, the District declined this request in keeping with the advice of the project architect.  The request was not made timely in accordance with the contract.  More importantly, we believed that the July 2018 completion date could still be met by Paradigm properly managing and staffing the project and that Harvey related weather delays during the early stage of the project were not cause for pushing back the school’s opening.  It is clear now that Paradigm would not have finished on time even with the requested weather delay.  In truth, the project was not even close to being finished by the contractual completion date.  More than just having an incomplete building, the District believes it now must remediate significant construction defects unrelated to the project’s schedule.  

"The District is still in the process of investigating the nature and extent of the problems, but we are working hard every day to minimize any issues that may be impacting the school’s programs.  We appreciate the dedication of the school’s staff and teachers as they strive to make the school year as seamless as possible for students and parents. The District is especially committed to ensuring that the school offers a safe and healthy environment for students and employees.  The District will never take shortcuts on student safety.  Wherever safety concerns have arisen, we have responded quickly. It may take some time, but the District is intent on completing the project and giving the Huffman community the state-of-the-art facility we promised."