Five years after Proviso East fire, court says pay up

Appellate court reverses circuit court ruling

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By Michael Romain

Staff Reporter

An Illinois Appellate Court ruled earlier this year that Proviso Township High School District 209 has to pay the roughly $1.4 million it owes Restore Construction Company for emergency repairs that took place after a fire that broke out at Proviso East High School in 2014. The appellate court's decision reverses a 2017 decision by the Circuit Court of Cook County, which dismissed a lawsuit Restore had filed in order to secure the balance. 

The two-alarm fire on May 10, 2014 broke out in the second-floor social room at the high school, with smoke spreading to the third-floor chemistry labs. Roughly two weeks later, on May 22, former D209 Supt. Nettie Collins-Hart signed two contracts on behalf of the district — one with "Restore Restoration to mitigate and remediate fire damage and the other with Restore Construction to repair the fire-damaged school. The agreement did not go through the typical competitive bidding process," according to the appellate court opinion. 

On Aug. 12, 2014, former D209 school board president Dan Adams signed an amended agreement with Restore Construction for emergency repairs, but that amended agreement was never presented to the full school board for approval and a vote. 

Based on the agreement, Restore performed "emergency mitigation and repairs" valued at $6.9 million, with total work valued at $7.3 million. By February 2015, Legat, the district's architectural firm, had certified that Restore had completed $5.8 million worth of work, which was paid through the district's insurance policy. By 2015, however, the board, had stopped paying on the total due and owed $1.4 million. The D209 school board has argued that they don't have to pay the remainder, because the contract was never valid in the first place. 

Restore filed a lawsuit in Circuit Court on October 2015, but that lawsuit was dismissed a year later. The company then appealed the decision. 

According to a summary of the case by attorneys with the labor law firm Franczek P.C., which doesn't represent either side, Restore "sought payment for what it was owed based on equitable principles, not the existence of a valid contract. The Appellate Court held that even though there was no valid contract in place, it would be unjust to allow the school district to retain the company's services without paying the reasonable value for them. Thus, a contract implied in law could be enforced against the school district." 

District 209 Supt. Jesse Rodriguez, who was hired in 2016 to replace Collins-Hart, could not be immediately reached for comment on Tuesday morning. 

Franzcek P.C. attorneys stated on Nov. 5 that the Illinois Supreme Court "has agreed to review the case, so it remains to be seen if the decision will stand," adding that the state Supreme Court's decision could affect other districts across Illinois that have "avoided liability for work performed by construction companies under invalid contracts." 


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