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Santa Ana Church Basement Runneth Over--With Water : Construction: Contractors, suppliers will pay $1.4 million to Coptic Orthodox congregation.

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SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Members of the Archangel Coptic Orthodox Church, which has been saturated with water since it was built three years ago atop a large reservoir, will receive $1.4 million from various parties connected with the construction.

Two construction companies, a waterproofer and supplier of waterproofing material, a geology consultant and an insurance company agreed to pay the church, which had filed a lawsuit alleging negligence at virtually every stage of the project.

The structure, which was built after years of fund raising by hundreds of congregation members, should never have been built at the site, said Kamel Youssef, a board member of the Coptic Orthodox Church. Church members said that they noticed early in the construction that workers were constantly pumping water from the site, but that architects and contractors continued to assure them that the water would not pose a problem.

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Yet, from the day the church was dedicated, a Sunday school and social hall in the basement frequently could not be used. During winter rains, the basement floors often were covered by an inch of water, said attorney Ken Kasdan, who represented the church. Rust and heavy water stains line the walls of the underground rooms.

“We thought we had done everything right,” said Youssef, 50, who is a civil engineer. “We were not a bunch of hicks doing a church.”

The lawsuit said Smith-Emery Co., an Anaheim-based geology consultant, failed to discover that the site selected for the church at 4405 Edinger Ave. was above a Metropolitan Water District reservoir. The company agreed to pay $20,000 as part of the settlement. Attorneys for Smith-Emery did not respond to requests for comment.

Mark Beamish Waterproofing and a supplier of waterproofing material agreed to pay the biggest portion of the settlement. Beamish, which was accused in the suit of not properly applying the waterproofing materials, agreed to settle for $450,000. The supplier, Harry A. Lowry & Associates, agreed to pay $400,000. The suit said the company failed to instruct Beamish properly on using the materials.

While Beamish agreed to the settlement, the company does not admit any wrongdoing or liability, said attorney George C. Rudolph. He said the church was negligent because it was constantly trying to cut costs on material that was critical to preventing flooding.

Contractor Consolidated Construction Consultants Inc. agreed to pay $270,000, while another company, Slater Construction, agreed to pay $100,000.

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Officials for the waterproofing supplier and the construction firms could not be reached for comment.

When the church was dedicated in 1992, it marked the fruition of effort that had begun more than decade earlier. The 350 congregation members--mostly Egyptian immigrants--collectively raised $1.9 million and obtained a bank loan of $900,000 for the project.

The 13,000-square-foot church is constructed in traditional Coptic architecture, with 35-foot-high arches, cross-shaped windows and four main columns inside to represent the four Gospels of the Bible. The Egyptian-based Christian church remains the only Coptic congregation in Orange County.

Pope Shenouda III, the religious leader of the Coptic Orthodox Church, consecrated the structure as part of his U.S. tour three years ago.

The church’s architect, Santa Ana-based Joseph A. Wollett, is the only defendant who has not settled. Wollett’s attorney had no comment.

Church officials say they will use proceeds from the settlement, which was approved by Superior Court Judge Francisco F. Firmat, to install metal supports to lift the structure so that new waterproofing can be added. However, Youssef admits there are no guarantees that the leaks will ever be plugged.

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“We planned it in a very businesslike manner, and despite all this, we got licked,” he said.

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