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Schools, builder settle dispute

A $150,000 settlement has been reached in the dispute between the Hernando County School Board and the Sarasota contractor who did work on the Hernando High School construction/renovation project.

In March, W. G. Mills Inc. sued in Hernando County Circuit Court to recoup more than $400,000 in costs for labor, services and materials for work done on the first phase of the project in addition to costs covered by the contract.

The School Board "has disputed its liability as to the final amounts of the claims made by W. G. Mills, and the parties have entered into a settlement agreement for the purpose of avoiding the cost, fees and expenses which would be incurred in connection with the litigation," board attorney Karen Gaffney wrote in a two-page statement distributed late last week. There is no explanation in the statement as to how the two sides reached the agreement, and both parties agreed not to comment on the settlement.

The suit was the result of a dispute about the district's final payment to Mills, which was awarded a $6.3-million contract in 1993. The school district refused to pay the company, because the two parties were in disagreement over how much Mills was owed.

At the time the lawsuit was filed, Gaffney said school officials believed Mills' estimates were "grossly inflated."

Mills built a new gym, a music wing, the administration building and the chiller plant at the high school. The contract also called for Mills to do work on roads and underground utilities, and to complete the parking lots. Mills finished the job last year.

The high school project, along with renovation and construction work at nearby Brooksville Elementary School, has been controversial because of a series of delays and cost overruns.

Work has begun on the second of three phases at the high school, while everything at the elementary campus is done. It is uncertain when the last portion of work at Hernando High will begin.