Another chapter added to Central Library debacle: Firm accused of flawed garage design sues library

The New York City firm that performed structural engineering for the world’s tallest building has filed suit against the Indianapolis-Marion County Public Library, which last year accused it of inept engineering on the parking garage beneath the six-story Central Library addition.

Thornton Tomasetti Engineers, the structural mastermind behind the 1,483-foot Petronas Towers in Malaysia, said it is still owed more than $750,000 for services it performed for the library project.

The suit was filed Oct. 17 in Shelby Circuit Court, where the bulk of litigation involving the library debacle has been transferred. Concurrently, Thornton Tomasetti also filed suit for breach of contract and damages against Indianapolis-based Woollen Molzan and Partners Inc., the architectural firm that hired

Thornton for the garage project.

It’s the latest chapter in a legal saga growing longer than a Dostoyevsky novel, involving cracks in concrete pillars and beams in the library addition’s parking garage.

The library sued Tomasetti and four other firms in 2004, charging defective plans and workmanship. The problems have delayed the projected reopening of the Central Library from 2005 to 2007 and have tacked on an estimated $40 million in costs to the $103 million project. Library officials hope to recoup the overruns through lawsuits.

Earlier this month, the library board voted not to extend the contract for the three firms collectively serving as the project’s construction manager-Shiel Sexton, Trotter Construction and Turner Construction Company of Indiana. They’ll step aside when their $5 million contract expires at the end of the year.

Library board President Louis Mahern declined to elaborate on the decision to cut ties with the trio.

“I think the board decided it would be best to start in a new direction. … I would rather not get into characterizing the job they’ve done,” he said.

Turner executive Mike Kaiman said he could not discuss the matter, but issued a statement on behalf of the firms.

“Our team is proud of all that we’ve been able to accomplish to keep this important project moving forward. Thanks in part to our efforts, it is back on track,” the statement said.

“As we have since day one, we will complete our project management responsibilities effectively, efficiently and in good faith, and we wish the library and its construction partners success.”

To replace the three firms, the library board has tapped Hunt Construction Group and Smoot Construction Group LLC. Their contract is valued at $4.5 million.

Mahern said he doesn’t expect the change in managers to disrupt the project, noting that the new team will have about six weeks to get up to speed before taking over.

But a local attorney for Thornton Tomasetti questioned bringing in a new team. Gerard Gregerson of Bingham McHale LLP said it’s the latest example of the board’s turning to outsiders, and ringing up extra costs, rather than relying on expertise already on site.

“They’re driving the cost of this thing through the roof. … What is going on now is overkill, at the expense of the taxpayers,” Gregerson said. He said Thornton Tomasetti offered the library input on rectifying problems but was rebuffed.

The New York firm said it is out nearly $750,000 for services at the site over the last year, and is suing to recover that and an unspecified amount of attorney’s fees.

Library officials have alleged flaws in Thornton Tomasetti’s design of the garage. But the New York firm blames either poor workmanship by Ohio-based Shook Construction and its subcontractors, or the failure of other firms to properly inspect the work.

Shook complained that the library called for significant design changes in early 2003 that involved additional reinforcing bars and cabling.

Around and around the finger pointing goes.

Greg Hahn, an Indianapolis attorney representing the library, said, “They’re saying, and we’re saying as well, ‘Hey, it’s not our fault.’ Let the jury decide who’s at fault and how much. … This is taxpayers’ money.”

Lynn Molzan, chairman of Woollen Molzan, declined to comment on Thornton Tomasetti’s complaint.

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