Construction crews were still working on the new building at the lavishly renovated Miami Edison Middle School when the roof started leaking.
That was six years ago. It hasn't stopped. Head custodian and former student James Brown remembers how proud he felt watching Miami-Dade Public Schools in the mid-1990s pump millions into the aging campus. Now, Brown has got a maintenance crew on standby every time it rains, ready to mop water from flooded classrooms.
"It leaks, leaks, leaks," said the school's new principal, Onetha Gilliard.
In a school district with dozens of troubled construction projects, Miami Edison Middle stands among the worst.
The renovation cost almost $42 million, millions more than expected and twice the price of a new middle school.
Planning started in the late 1980s, but the job wasn't done until 1997.
An evaluation after the school opened reported uneven tile floors, classroom flooding, peeling paint, unhealthy trees, wall cracks, broken hardware, roof leaks and poor air circulation.
Then there was the pigeon problem.
Months after the new, three-story building opened, birds swooped into the grand outdoor archway and nested on the lights. Every week, Brown had to climb onto a crane and remove the birds. The school eventually installed wire netting.
"The birds would come out and poop on people," Brown said. "The architect designed it to be beautiful but I don't think they anticipated birds to be a major problem."
The school district launched the project in 1988, the year Miami-Dade County voters passed a $980 million bond referendum for school construction.
Plans called for the demolition and replacement of the school, which once housed Miami Edison High.
But lobbying by powerful high school alumni, including school board member Betsy Kaplan, then board vice chair, persuaded the district to take on a far more expensive historical renovation project.
Though the 74-year-old facility was structurally weak and fraught with roof leaks, the school board decided to try something new. Instead of hiring one general contractor, the board opted to hire 34 to give minority and female-owned firms a shot at board business. The district also hired a construction manager.
There was, among others, a contractor for the demolition, the fencing, the landscaping, the masonry, the woodwork, the building structure, the site work, the insulation, the doors, the hardwood floors.
Right from the start, the project came in over budget. Bids for construction work were 41 percent higher than expected. The district's staff wanted to reject the bids and start over, but the school board voted to add $10.5 million to the renovation project.
When the work finally began in 1995, delays stifled the project.
When one contractor blew the schedule, many others were affected.
Finger-pointing and frustration followed:
In a September 1995 letter from BRV Construction Services, hired to do the glass and glazing: "Please note that BRV is not responsible for what you consider delays in the delivery of the steel windows. . . . As early as March 1995, we advised you of what we considered a potential problem. . . . Had it not taken three months to resolve this issue you could possibly be receiving windows now."
In a January 1996 letter from the management company hired to oversee the project: "Urban Organization [hired for the masonry] has made our task particularly difficult, if not impossible, by not staffing the project with a superintendent, as required. . . . This is an important, time critical project and Urban Organization is in danger of causing it irretrievable damage."
Urban Organization could not be reached for comment.
In a September 1996 letter from The Bared Company, hired to do the air-conditioning work: "As you know, we have been promised electrical power for several weeks with no results. . . . We will demobilize our crew until permanent electrical power is available. . . .
"We reserve the right for a time extension and related costs. . . . "
Despite the problems, many students, staff and alumni are proud of the renovations. Architect R.J. Heisenbottle won awards for the design and preservation of the school, where the courtyard is home to the goal post used Thanksgiving Day 1952, when Miami Edison beat its rival, Miami High, 21-7.
"I don't think it's of any use to dig up mistakes of the past when the mistakes have been corrected," Kaplan said.
Problem is, many haven't.
One of the contractors tried to fix the leaks after the building opened, district officials say, but the leaks continue.
"We have water leaks here," Brown said, "and they can't really be stopped."
Database editor Jason Grotto contributed to this report.