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Ohio University must ensure that new residences are safe



Published: Fri, July 27, 2001 @ 12:00 a.m.



In the wake of allegations that illegal immigrants, including children, were involved in the construction of a $32 million student housing complex on the campus of Ohio University and that electrical wiring in one of the buildings failed the first two inspections, OU had better make sure the complex is safe before any students move in.

It's not enough for the university to place a monitor at the construction site in response to a Cleveland Plain Dealer story Tuesday that revealed the presence of children as young as 9 years old in the construction work detail. But even after the initial story was published, the Plain Dealer followed up with a report that children were still working at the site.

Apart from the fact that child labor is illegal in Ohio and the nation, the university is asking for trouble if it does not ensure that the contractors on the job strictly adhere to all state laws, rules and regulations that apply to public projects. For one thing, the contractors are required to pay union-scale wages, along with federal and state taxes.

A lawsuit has been filed in Athens County Common Pleas Court by the Ohio and Vicinity Regional Council of Carpenters to stop the project until all workers are paid a fair wage, the newspaper reported.

But it is the quality of work that should be of major concern to the university.

Wiring: According to an inspection document obtained by the Plain Dealer, the Mexicans, said to be illegal immigrants, did not know how to properly wire the buildings. "The Mexicans doing the electrical work did not understand how to do the wiring," a state inspector wrote. " ... Pictures were taken of the proper wiring and given to the workers so they could learn how the wiring is supposed to be done."

Although an individual who represents the Georgia-based Rea Contractors Inc. insists that minors did not do any work and that one young man merely served as a translator for his Spanish-speaking father, the fact remains that a state inspector has raised questions about the expertise and knowledge of some of the crew.

Leesa Brown, OU's assistant vice president for communications and marketing, says that safety problems and minors on the job site would not be tolerated, adding, "We're confident that it's a high-quality project."

But given that questions have been publicly raised about the project, the university must recognize that the 600 or students who will be housed in the complex -- and their families -- will need to be put at ease. That will require more than a statement from a university official.

Ohio University would be well-advised to go beyond the regular building inspection procedures that would precede occupancy of the complex. The hiring of an independent firm that specializes in such public projects would go a long way toward reassuring everyone that there isn't a reason to worry.




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