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Payment ends sick school suit

The architect who designed Denham Oaks Elementary School has agreed to pay the Pasco County School District $139,350 for his role in creating an indoor air quality problem at the school five years ago.

The settlement, coupled with an earlier $583,000 collected from the school's builder, means the district will have recouped all of the money it spent cleaning the school after dozens of teachers and students mysteriously fell ill in September 1997. All complained of similar symptoms: runny noses, sore throats and itchy eyes.

Ken Trufant, the district's construction director who oversaw the claims against the Denham Oaks builder and architects, said the settlement closes the book on the Denham Oaks saga.

Pasco paid a Polk County lawyer about $100,000 to help recoup the costs. In all, the district collected $722,000 from Norwood Construction and the architects. The district spent about $661,000 cleaning the school and fixing the air quality problem.

Denham Oaks' air troubles began shortly after school began in 1997 and plagued the school for weeks as experts tried to find the root of the problem. They originally thought a mixture of pesticides and chemicals were to blame.

Finally, an air quality expert from the University of South Florida concluded that dust left over from the school's construction was to blame. During the final stages of construction, workers sanded down the building's exterior stucco because it had dried to some sharp points, creating a potential hazard for students. The dust apparently infiltrated classrooms and the air system.

There have been no complaints at the school since the district's weeks-long cleanup.

The school's architects, Rick Rados and Rick Rowe, could not be reached for comment.