Editor’s Note: Missing from the article below is reference to videos shown during Chris Lamendola’s testimony Monday. According to one observer in court when the videos were shown, the videos showed a swaying light fixture and scenes of the construction as viewed from his backyard. The observer said audible on the video was the hum of construction noise and the “beep, beep” from vehicles on the site as they backed up, as well as a clacking sound of rattling cupboard doors.
More than five years ago, Chris Lamendola contacted town officials to complain about vibrations at his house from nearby construction of the new Cole Middle School. On Monday, he testified before a jury and Superior Court Judge Bennett Gallo in a trial brought about by a lawsuit he and other homeowners filed as a result of those vibrations and the damage they say resulted.
Lamendola, his wife Susan, and two other couples who own houses on Sarah’s Trace, filed suit against the town, the school department and a number of construction-related companies in 2011.
On the stand Monday, Lamendola was questioned by his attorney, David Maglio, about events starting when he first learned a new school building was going to be built on the site of the old Cole Middle School.
Lamendola said he attended three pre-construction meetings and voiced his concerns about the school’s placement at the second of those meetings, in 2007. An earlier witness, Jon Winikur, owner of Strategic Building Solutions, the company hired as project manager by the EG School Department, said Lamendola’s complaints about where the building was to be built on the property had prompted EGSD to move the building farther away from the Lamendola property line, at a cost to the project of $1 million. Lamendola, however, did not mention that and defense lawyers did not bring it up in cross examination.
Lamendola said he and his wife first felt vibrations in November 2009, shortly after construction began.
“I had taken a half day at work and I was home building shelves in the basement. I felt the house shuddering,” said Lamendola. He said he went upstairs to find his wife, who said she thought it was an earthquake.
He said he went to the border of his property and that of Cole Middle School and he saw large construction equipment at work.
“I whistled over to one of the construction workers – I can whistle pretty loud – I said, ‘My house is shaking,’ and he gave me the finger,” said Lamendola.
He said he contacted then-Town Councilor Henry Boezi, who told him to file a police report. Lamendola contacted EG police twice, in late November and in early December 2009. He developed a routine – when his house began shaking, he would walk to the edge of the property and see what was happening on the construction site. Sometimes, he said, he’d take pictures.
Lamendola said his family started noticing cracks in structures on his property in late November – the first cracks noticed were one in the kitchen and one on the basketball court. When Maglio asked him how he knew these were new cracks, Lamendola said they used the kitchen and the basketball court all the time.
In January, the school department, through SBS, arranged to have a survey done of the Lamendola property by Aldinger & Associates, a defendant, to assess any possible damage. That same month, Lamendola and his wife began noting down the times when they felt shaking in their house.
At the trial Monday, attorney Maglio ticked through the months with Lamendola – 5 instances in January 2010, 11 in February, 9 in March, 4 in April, etc., through August 2011 (4 times). No vibrations were felt from September through December 2010.
Lamendola said four Town Council members and all seven School Committee members visited the his house in spring 2010. He hired Maglio after that. The Lamendolas, at 50 Sarah’s Trace, and neighbors Tom Hogan and Cynthia Pelosi, at 40 Sarah’s Trace, filed suit against the school district, the town and a number of construction-related entities in February 2011. Keith and Wendy Amelotte, at 35 Sarah’s Trace, joined the suit later in 2011.
In August 2010, a second survey was done of the Lamendola property, by Pare Corporation, an engineering firm. Pare documented cracks in the walls, foundation, pool and basketball court but, Lamendola conceded during cross examination, the Pare report said, “Pare has concluded that the structure remains structurally sound.”
Under questions from Maglio, Lamendola laid out damage throughout his house that he said was caused by the school construction.
In cross examination, attorney John Donovan, representing defendant Manafort Construction, which took over from Fleet Construction in May 2010, questioned Lamendola about a dispute the Lamendolas had with their contractor in 1997, when they were building their house. Donovan mentioned a report done by architect-engineer Wil Yoder on the condition of the Lamendola house at the Lamendolas’ request, which pointed out problems with the roof pitch and lack of wind clips. Lamendola countered that the problems were cosmetic only and that the contractor then fixed them.
Donovan also pointed out that Lamendola’s homeowner’s insurer had denied a damage claim in 2009. Donovan asked Lamendola if he and his family had ever moved out of the house because of the damage. Lamendola said they had not. Donovan asked Lamendola why he had not fixed the damage in the house. Lamendola said he could not afford to fix it.
The trial will resume on Tuesday. An archive of previous EG News stories about the case can be found here.
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