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BRIGHTON, Colo. (KDVR) — Children’s building blocks and other unused toys are covered with construction dust in the basement of Isabella Maria Preiss’ home in Brighton.

The licensed day care operator wanted to expand her day care operation doubling the number of children in her care, but a Problem Solvers investigation found thousands of wasted taxpayer dollars after an unlicensed contractor in Brighton built unpermitted work at the day care, according to state documents.

“It’s affecting me emotionally and physically,” Preiss said. “I just don’t want anybody else going through what I’m going through. It’s a nightmare.”

Preiss dreamed of expanding her business and applied for a grant with the Emerging and Expanding Child Care Grant Program for financial support to create rooms in the unfinished basement of her home.

“When I applied for the grant, I had to do a lot of things. I had to go to school for it. I had to take classes and workshops,” Preiss said. “I had to submit everything to the grant council.”

The grant program provides millions of dollars to help licensed child day care providers start or expand their businesses. Child care programs that meet the criteria are eligible for a grant award from $3,000 to $50,000 in expenses related to the costs of expanding or opening a new day care program.

The Early Childhood Partnership of Adams County awarded Preiss $42,000 in grant funds to add walls, a bathroom and a kitchen area.  Preiss said, “I chose the contractor that I hired.” 

Unfinished bathroom in Brighton Basement (Image Credit: Isabella Maria Preiss)

Preiss accepted 9Line Construction’s bid. 9Line Construction, which is owned by Richard Resendez, has been in business since 2021, according to the Colorado Secretary of State’s business registration page.

Wall frames went up, electrical wiring was installed and drywall hung, but when Preiss checked on an inspection, Brighton’s building department informed the homeowner that building permits were not pulled.

“You have to be a licensed contractor to pull a permit in the city of Brighton,” the day care operator told FOX31. “He should have known this.”

The City of Brighton told FOX31 in June they have “no record of a contractor application or issuance of a license for Mr. Resendez or 9Line Construction at any time.”

Fixing the damage

Preiss has now hired a licensed contractor to tear out the walls, reinstall them to be up to code and fix any issues that will not pass code, costing her thousands of dollars.  

“There’s ductwork in here, but there’s no heat run,” licensed general contractor Jim Cope said. “Smoke detectors are supposed to be hard-wired. These aren’t. These are battery-operated smoke detectors.”

According to 9Line Construction’s sales agreement, there is an itemized list of the construction work and a cost breakdown, but Cope said most of the work was incomplete or unfinished.

“All this work was done without a permit, so in order to get this plumbing for this tile and toilet, they have to cut the concrete up,” Cope said.

An estimate to tear out the nonpermitted work was $25,000.  The grant program is allocating another $6,800 to pay Cope for the costs of tear-out and repairs. 

“He even hid the project’s trash in the walls instead of throwing it away,” said Preiss, who now must dump piles of excess construction debris.

Trash in the walls (Image Credit: Isabella Maria Preiss)

FOX31 wanted to know if the county and the state have enough checks and balances for the grant application process since day care operators were tasked with hiring general contractors for grant-paid projects.

“I will tell you that I didn’t know he wasn’t licensed,” said Lisa Jansen Thompson, executive director of early childhood partnership in Adams County.

Jansen Thompson is in charge of the agency that wrote the checks to Resendez for Preiss’ expansion.

“What we have been doing so far is following the state guidelines because the money does come from the state,” Jansen Thompson said. “That requires us to ensure his business is in good standing and to ensure that he did have liability insurance, and both of those things were checked.”

More checks and balances coming

The Problem Solvers found that neither the day care operator, the county nor the state vetted if the contractor had a contractor’s license to do work in Brighton.

“We are taking this situation very seriously,” said Mary Alice Cohen, the director of Colorado’s Office of Early Childhood.

The Colorado Department of Human Services Office of Early Childhood told FOX31 the department will add additional checks and balances for contractors who receive grant funding to expand day care operations.

“What we will be changing, is now, before a council can make a payment to a contractor, they have to show that they pulled a permit and that they completed the inspection,“ Cohen said.  

While those important changes came thanks to the Problem Solvers, they were too late for other grant recipients.

FOX31 found the Early Childhood Partnership paid $108,365 in grant money to Resendez doing business as 9Line Construction for work at day care operators in Brighton and Thornton in 2021 and through April of 2022. 

All checks were written and issued by the Early Childhood Partnership to the contractor before May 2022, when Thornton approved a contractor’s license for 9Line Construction to do framing and drywall.

“Were there some checks and balances that we could have put in place along the way, absolutely, but at the end of the day, he’s the one who didn’t do the work correctly,” Jansen Thompson said.

What the contractor had to say

FOX31 wanted to know if Resendez would apply for a contractor’s license in Brighton, but he refused to do an on-camera interview.

“It doesn’t matter to the state. It doesn’t matter to them, they want things done their way and that’s OK,” Resendez said over the phone. “I’m willing to do that.”

Resendez told the Problem Solvers he has a license from Colorado.

The Colorado Department of Regulatory Agencies, which regulates trades like electricians and plumbers said, “Mr. Resendez had an electrical apprentice registration that expired in 2018.”

DORA also said that they do not regulate contractors or issue licenses and that “there is no state entity that regulates general contractors.” A public information officer with DORA suggested those seeking licenses do so at the local jurisdictional level.

Brighton Police are investigating. If you have a similar story, detectives want to hear from you.  Call Brighton Police’s tip line at 303-655-8740.

Meanwhile, the damage done to Preiss’ basement pales in comparison to the irreparable damage done to her emotionally.

“This isn’t just my home, this is my preschool, my childcare, my school,” Preiss said. “This is for the kids.”