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The contract for the new, delay-plagued Spanish Fork Middle School is headed for arbitration to resolve a dispute between the school district and the contractor, Gramoll Construction Co. of Salt Lake City.

Contractor Jim Gramoll told the Deseret News the dispute stemmed from the district shutting down the project last year when it was discovered that soil compaction by another contractor wasn't done properly.Brent Hawkins, Nebo School District facilities director, said a preliminary meeting must first be held with the architect before resorting to arbitration. The school board in a special session several weeks ago authorized Superintendent Denis Poulson to do whatever he could to resolve the matter, including terminating the contract.

Unlike other Nebo School District building projects, officials didn't expect construction of the $11 million school to be completed by the beginning of school, Aug. 29, because of the shutdown. They are planning on a December completion, but may be disappointed.

Gramoll said he filed for arbitration against the district because it failed to give adjustments in the contract caused by the work suspension. Work is continuing and the construction company is still being paid, he said, although the building may not be ready until January.

Gramoll said he started the project in April 1995 and was given 488 days to complete it. But a week into the work, crews discovered the sides of trenches sloughing off. Officials say further investigation showed the contractor that preceded Gramoll, H.E. Davis & Sons of Spanish Fork, hadn't done the compaction properly.

Hawkins said soil engineers typically test each lift of dirt for compaction before another lift is placed on it. He said when officials suspected that compaction wasn't proper the district hired a series of independent engineers to confirm it, then finally had the work done over.

The issue is still being contested, he said, but he's convinced the district made the right decision.

H.E. Davis maintains the compaction passed inspection the first time. He declined further comment, saying the issue may result in a lawsuit.

Gramoll said he was told to suspend the work until the dirt was replaced. Crews removed 20,500 cubic feet of dirt and some footings, then prepared the ground again before Gramoll got back to the project in August 1995.

Gramoll said the district is unhappy with the delays, which include change orders. He said he received some 200 change orders, some of which were significant and further delayed the project. "We didn't do the site work and we didn't design the building," said Gramoll. "We worked off documents provided by the school district."

Poulson said the students scheduled to attend the new middle school will keep going to Spanish Fork Intermediate School until the new building is completed. It is the largest school in the district with more than 2,000 students.

Two new elementary schools, Taylor in Payson, and Mount Loafer in Salem, are complete and ready for school to begin next week. An addition to Springville Middle School will also be ready. Workers were laying carpet last week and minor work will need to be completed after school begins, Poulson said. Another new school, Canyon Elementary School, is expected to be completed in about a year.

The rapidly growing district has nearly 19,000 students. It opened four more sections for kindergarten children for this coming term and has more than 100 classes in portable buildings. Poulson expects the numbers to grow even more after Labor Day. Four of the larger elementary schools have more than 700 students each.