Private eye raises questions about inspections in local schools

For 10 years or more, the Duval County School District has been doing building inspections improperly or not at all, a local private investigator alleges.

David Hodges told Eye on Jacksonville he has notified both the school police department and the School Board of the situation but apparently nothing has been done.

“There is no person employed by the (school district) who is properly licensed to review plans nor perform mechanical, electrical nor plumbing inspections of facilities and this is the problem for at least the past 10 years,” Hodges said.

Hodges, at the request of three clients, has investigated public records and found:

· The district’s building inspectors are not qualified to do the work they are assigned to do and, in some cases, don’t even bother to do the work.

· The building code administrator in charge of building inspections is performing plan reviews, though she doesn’t have the required plans review licenses for it. Curiously, the district posted a request for applicants today.

· Portable buildings, used in many schools, have not been inspected annually as required by state law — in some cases for more than 12 years and then not even by an improperly licensed inspector.

The latter complaint seems a serious safety concern. The government schools use hundreds of portable classrooms, and no one knows how many may present a fire hazard.

Hodges notified the school police in May of possible violations of state law in regard to the building inspectors’ activity. This occurred after he staked out one inspector’s home on a day when the employee reported doing four inspections that would require driving 74 miles. The employee did not leave his house, Hodges said. He also did not sign in at the school as required, according to logbooks.

The district’s building inspectors are required to follow the Florida Building Code requirements and are not fully licensed to do work their duties include, Hodges told the board at its August meeting.

Hodges said the other counties in Northeast Florida have similar problems.

But, Hodges said, the government schools in Duval County are asking for more money even though “they are not doing a good job with what they have.”

Two years ago the district succeeded in getting a half-cent sales tax increase to build new schools and currently is seeking a one-mill increase in property taxes for pay raises and other costs.

The money from the sales tax increase will be used to build 28 new schools and do $1 billion in repairs on other schools. In addition, more than 400 portable classrooms will be removed.

Presumably, the district believes that removing the portables will obviate the fact that some or all have not been inspected for years but the construction of the new schools will require inspections and having them done properly by licensed inspectors should be a priority if school safety is as important as school officials say.

Eye has asked the school district to respond to the allegations.

*Update 8/12/2022: The school administration has responded to the allegations, citing Florida Statute 468.604, dealing with the responsibilities of building code administrators, plans examiners, and inspectors.

(1) It is the responsibility of the building code administrator or building official to administrate, supervise, direct, enforce, or perform the permitting and inspection of construction, alteration, repair, remodeling, or demolition of structures and the installation of building systems within the boundaries of their governmental jurisdiction, when permitting is required, to ensure compliance with the Florida Building Code and any applicable local technical amendment to the Florida Building Code. The building code administrator or building official shall faithfully perform these responsibilities without interference from any person.

 The administration says the building code administrator is licensed with the Department of Business and Professional Regulation as a building code administrator. Additionally, the staff under her supervision includes: One inspector with qualifications in building, coastal construction, commercial electrical, mechanical and plumbing inspection, another with qualification in commercial electric and a third with qualifications in building inspection.”In short, we see no merit to the allegations,” a spokesman said. “Our qualifications and processes for building inspections are sound and in accordance with state law and professional practice.

Lloyd Brown

Lloyd was born in Jacksonville. Graduated from the University of North Florida. He spent nearly 50 years of his life in the newspaper business …beginning as a copy boy and retiring as editorial page editor for Florida Times Union. He has also been published in a number of national newspapers and magazines, as well as Internet sites. Married with children. Military Vet. Retired. Man of few words but the words are researched well, deeply considered and thoughtfully written.


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