DALLAS - A FOX 4 Investigation into the quality of school construction prompted the Dallas ISD School Board to question whether enough is being done to ensure student safety in one of the largest districts to hire Ratcliff Constructors, the same company that built Shields Elementary in Red Oak ISD, which was badly damaged in a December tornado.
FOX 4 began investigating school construction across North Texas after an EF-3 tornado hit Shields Elementary School in Ellis County the day after Christmas last year. After an exterior wall toppled over in the storm, Red Oak ISD hired a third-party engineer to re-inspect the school’s construction.
In a January 2016 report, Red Oak ISD accused Ratcliff Constructors of improperly fastening walls at Shields Elementary.
Since then, Ratcliff has agreed to pay Red Oak ISD for wall repairs that have already been completed by a new contractor.
After Red Oak ISD’s January report, we asked Dallas ISD if it would re-inspect its nine schools built from the ground up by Ratcliff. DISD also has seven other campuses renovated by Ratcliff.
In a FOX 4 story that aired March 29, Wanda Paul, Dallas ISD Chief of Operations said demolition would be required to determine whether Dallas ISD schools’ walls were improperly secured.
After that investigation aired, Dallas ISD changed its plan and decided to remove insulation to reveal how walls were secured at three of its nine Ratcliff schools.
This move comes two weeks before the Dallas ISD School Board votes on yet another Ratcliff contract.
“This has been a frustrating process,” said Dallas ISD Trustee Miguel Solis at Thursday’s school board briefing.
Solis requested the district discuss the issue at that meeting after FOX 4 interviewed him in March.
"It's our duty to make sure the public has continued confidence in the work that we do, whether that's in the classroom or building the classroom,” said Solis.
Paul told the board Thursday it only took 24 hours to inspect the three schools.
"If it took 24 hours to check three, and we built nine, can we take 48 hours to go check the other six?" asked Solis.
“Just be mindful, it's going to cost money and time,” said Trustee Edwin Flores.
In the end, administrators made no guarantee to the board that they would re-inspect the other six schools.
But, Solis also pushed to find out how the district is making sure Jose “Joe” May Elementary, under construction by Ratcliff right now in Solis’ district, is still safe.
"If I get questions about if Joe May has been constructed to the most upmost fashion, and does not indicate at all the work not done effectively at Red Oak, I can say to them, you have nothing to worry about, the work has been done to 100 % perfect,” Solis said.
His statement was greeted by silence in the meeting.
“Yes or no?” Solis asked.
“Thought that was rhetorical,” replied Paul.
“I want to hear it,” Solis said.
“We have so many different phases of construction,” said Paul.
“I know, I know,” said Solis. “Yes or no?”
The school board is currently considering whether to approve a contract with Ratcliff to build an extension at Casa View Elementary School.
"We have stopped business with smaller companies for something much less,” said Trustee Joyce Foreman at Thursday’s meeting. "This company has serious issues with the construction that they did. No question."
Eagle Mountain-Saginaw ISD is in the process of re-inspecting its nine schools built or renovated by Ratcliff.
So far, engineers there have found a problem with the way one wall was secured at Prairie Vista Middle School. That wall has since been repaired. You can read EMS ISD’s full update here.