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School district sues builders

Hillsborough County school officials are suing the architects and contractors they believe are responsible for millions of dollars of structural damage to Symmes Elementary School.

The school, at 6280 Watson Road in Riverview, began showing cracks in the walls in the first semester after it opened in August 2001.

Floors buckled, and fissures opened on sidewalks. The problems were so severe that students had to be moved to portable classrooms. The total repair bill was estimated at $5-million last year, almost as much as the $7.3-million cost to build.

The School Board holds that the construction failures wouldn't have occurred had architect Portela & Associates and construction manager Skanska USA Inc. taken proper steps after discovering clay material underground in the early stages of construction.

Though Portela reviewed soil tests conducted by Tampa company Test Lab Inc., it approved a construction plan school officials say was insufficient to support the school.

Additionally, Skanska found other areas of unsuitable clay at the site, but failed to advise the School Board, the suit claims.

The School Board is suing Portela for breach of contract and negligence; Test Lab Inc. for negligence; and Skanska for breach of contract and negligence.

Representatives with Portela, Test Lab and Skanska could not be reached for comment late Thursday.