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Investigative Report: Alarming Failures Part IV

Updated: Wednesday, August 21 2013, 02:08 PM EDT
A News 13 investigation into safety issues at Buncombe County schools is already getting results. After our reports, county officials began investigating electrical work done at schools without the required permits or inspections. Now some are wondering if the district's mistakes will end up costing taxpayers.

Last week we gave county officials proof that work was done by school electricians for years without the required permits and inspections. With no inspections there's no guarantee that work is up to code or even safe. More alarming; workers say district officials told them not to pull permits.

John Payne worked as a school electrician for years but recently retired. He says his supervisors flat out refused to permit work despite his requests to do so. Payne tells us, "I said are you going to get this inspected and he said, 'no'.

We found several contractors who say district officials also told them not to pull permits. Christopher Ashe is a licensed electrician who worked with the district for 8 years and says, "They said no, don't worry about permits."

Payne kept copies of more than 400 work orders for jobs he did at schools, some as far back as 7 years ago and many were done without permits.  We randomly selected 49 of those work orders and gave them to Matt Stone who is Buncombe County's Director of Permits and Inspections. Stone confirmed 45 of those jobs did require permits but none were pulled. He has since ordered the district's maintenance department to pull those permits. The county will then have to inspect that work to make sure it's up to code. So far this week they've inspected jobs at 6 schools.

Dan Hale is concerned. He not only has two children who attend Black Mountain Primary School, but he ran for the school board last year and is also a licensed contractor. Hale tells News 13, "Your reporting brought up a lot of questions, you answered and brought to light a lot of issues, now there's a lot more questions."

Hale wants to know if taxpayers are footing the bill for this work and how much it will cost saying, "Who's going to pay for this? You're going to have contractors coming out, what are they going to have to do - tear into the walls? If they don't tear into the walls they can check a unit or outlet at each point. That's not a very thorough inspection as it would have been if it was done by proper procedure when it was being built, when everything is open and showing."

When reviewing those 45 work orders we noticed Payne had also taken notes, documenting how electrical and fire code issues were handled. At Pisgah Elementary in 2009 he installed a new dishwasher in the cafeteria. On that work order Payne wrote: ‘After installing a new electrical panel his supervisor, Scott Emory, said not to pull a permit or have an inspection because it would cost too much’. The next year, Payne installed another electrical panel at Pisgah and noted, the panel had the wrong breakers and were overloaded, they were never inspected and “it's lucky no one was injured by an explosion”.

At Enka High in 2010, Payne noted on a work order that a contractor did work that was not up to code and that worker was not a licensed electrician. These types of issues have Hale worried for his childrens' safety. He says, "They do practice fire drills, can you imagine if it was a real fire and the system fails? That's tragic."

We asked the school district and Matt Stone how much time and money has been spent so far addressing these safety issues. We haven't gotten a response from the district yet and Stone is now out of town until the 23rd. When we find out we'll let you know. Tomorrow night at 6pm parents and teachers react to our investigation.

By: Mike Mason
Follow Mike on Twitter @mikemason1

Related Links:

Investigative Report: Alarming Failures Part I

Investigative Report: Alarming Failures Part II

Investigative Report: Alarming Failures Part III

Investigative Report: Alarming Failures Part IV

Investigative Report: Alarming Failures Part V

Investigative Report: Alarming Failures Part VI

Investigative Report: Alarming Failures Part IV

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