Salem-Keizer sues construction firm over fire damages at Waldo Middle School

Fire damage at Waldo Middle School following the April 29, 2020 fire (Courtesy/Crime Stoppers of Oregon)

The Salem-Keizer School District is suing a construction contractor alleging that their failure to secure a construction site at Waldo Middle School allowed an arsonist to set fire to materials at the building and delay work on a school renovation.

The complaint, filed Dec. 10 in Marion County Circuit Court, seeks $81,588 in damages plus attorney fees from Triplett Wellman, a Woodburn-based construction company.

Triplett Wellman owner Nick Wellman declined to comment on the allegations in the suit Tuesday morning. He said the company had not yet been served or had a chance to review the complaint.

The suit is over damages from a fire at the school on April 29, 2020, when construction was underway. Dispatch records show Salem firefighters responded to the school at 2805 Lansing Ave. N.E. around 4:30 a.m.

Salem police concluded the fire was arson and sought the public’s help identifying a suspect seen on surveillance footage in a June 2020 announcement with Crime Stoppers of Oregon. The case is still listed as open on the Crime Stoppers site.

Police said the fire did about $250,000 worth of damage.

The claim does not allege that the contractor was responsible for the fire. But it says the contractor’s failure to properly secure building materials and the jobsite led to more than $80,000 in costs to the district because of construction equipment damaged in the fire, downtime for roofing workers, repairs needed to the building and the cost of hiring round-the-clock security.

“We understand the fire was started by someone who accessed the job site and our claim is against Triplett Wellman for failing to secure the job site, as it promised to do in the contract,” said Paul Dakopolos, the district’s attorney, in an email to Salem Reporter.

Triplett Wellman was the general contractor for a $12.1 million expansion of the school which began in August 2019 and finished about a year later. The expansion included a new wing with four additional classrooms, four science labs and a multipurpose fitness room, according to the district’s website.

The lawsuit says the district pursued a claim with Triplett Wellman’s insurance provider, but the claim was denied.

It’s the second lawsuit the district has filed related to the over $700 million school construction package that’s been underway since 2018. In the fall of 2018, the district filed suit seeking to take land then owned by St. Edward Catholic Church in Keizer by eminent domain. The suit was settled in February 2019 when the church agreed to a sale.

Contact reporter Rachel Alexander: [email protected] or 503-575-1241.

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