Pennsylvania school building and other public-works projects are supposed to be made of real U.S.-made steel.
A longtime state law meant to strengthen the state's economy was allegedly violated by construction companies that duped school administrators into believing they were building with U.S. steel, and the state Attorney General's Office is investigating to determine if there are similar issues across the state.
Area school districts with recent building projects haven't been contacted by the Attorney General's Office as part of the probe, a solicitor said.
Mirror file photo by J.D. Cavrich
The Altoona Area Junior High School, seen in its initial stages in 2007, was built with U.S. steel as required by state law, a school district official said.
The state sued several Allegheny County companies under Ryco Fire Protection Services and Ryco Plumbing in Commonwealth Court for reputed violations of the Pennsylvania Steel Products Procurement Act, the Unfair Trade Practices and Consumer Protection Law and the Pennsylvania Corrupt Organizations Act.
"According to the complaint, Ryco used hundreds of fittings and hangers made in China and Poland during the installation of fire protection systems that were part of public works projects requiring the use of steel from the United States," Attorney General Linda Kelly said in a press release.
Those lower-cost foreign steel products were allegedly installed by Ryco during projects involving student housing at the Indiana University of Pennsylvania and school renovations for the Blairsville-Saltsburg School District, Kelly stated. The total value of the Ryco contracts for those projects totaled more than $800,000.
Altoona Area School District's most recent building project was a junior high school that opened on Seventh Avenue in 2008.
"What I can tell you is that when we put together a contract it includes heavy verbiage that U.S. steel is to be used only," Grounds Manager Jeff Hostler said.
Hostler said the district received no calls from the Attorney General's office about the ongoing investigation.
In the case allegedly involving IUP and Blairsville-Saltsburg, the contract Hostler referred to was falsified. A situation like that would be out of the district's control, unless the architect examines every piece of steel, Hostler said.
"There are ways to check on that as it comes in. Steel fittings and products are stamped with the state and town where they were fabricated so architects and engineers on site can ensure that it's made in the U.S.," Hostler said.
Other school officials from districts in Blair, Bedford and Cambria counties with recent major building renovations did not respond to emails sent Friday. Dave Andrews, a solicitor for numerous districts throughout central Pennsylvania, said none of his districts have reported to him that the Attorney General's Office was investigating their renovations.
The complaint against Ryco asks the court to order civil penalties of up to $1,000 for each violation and other relief, along with recovery of any payments that were made to Ryco under these contracts and the cost of the investigation, Kelly said.
The lawsuit also seeks to prohibit Ryco and the other defendants from submitting bids or supplying materials to any public agency in Pennsylvania or any state contract for a five-year period.