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July 21, 2013

Plumber suspected in mold outbreak still getting city contracts

Haverhill company gets work even while being sued for Guilmette School job

LAWRENCE — The subcontractor whose work allegedly caused a mold infestation that shut a city school for most of a school year and cost $7.5 million to fix has since been awarded eight city contracts worth up to $1.5 million, records show.

The city has continued awarding contracts to Francis H. Maroney Inc., a Haverhill plumbing and HVAC contractor, even after filing a lawsuit seeking to recover the cost of cleaning up the infestation and rebuilding the interior of the Guilmette School following the demolition required to get at the mold.

The city is suing the general contractor who oversaw the $23.3 million school construction job and hired Maroney to do the plumbing and HVAC work 13 years ago. The general contractor, Peabody Construction of Braintree, responded to the suit by filing claims against the dozen or so subcontractors it hired to build the school, including Maroney, which earned about $4 million from the project.

The city’s suit alleges Maroney caused the infestation by its failure to properly insulate pipes serving the air conditioning system it installed when the elementary and middle school was built in 2000. The alleged failure caused moisture to condense on the frigid pipes in the summer heat, allowing the mold to spread undetected through insulation, ceiling tiles, air ducts and wallboards for years, the city says in its lawsuit.

The mold infestation shut the school from October 2010 to April 2011, displacing 1,100 students and 150 staff to other buildings.

Since then, the city has awarded Maroney eight contracts to do the plumbing and maintain the heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems in all 35 city and school buildings. The buildings include Guilmette, although the air conditioning at the school has been turned off for nearly three years because of concern that turning it on could cause another mold outbreak.

In May, acting Public Works Director John Isensee barred Maroney from doing further work on the HVAC system at the Guilmette School, but allowed it to continue doing the work in the other 34 city and school buildings. That issue became moot in June, when the annual contract was rebid. Maroney was underbid by Falite Brothers of Wakefield, after winning the contract every year at least since 2010.

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