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Lewis County suing firms over purported courthouse design issues

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LOWVILLE — Lewis County has filed suit against two architectural firms for purported design issues in the county’s $14.5 million courthouse project, more than two years after lawmakers authorized legal action.

The county claims the firms that jointly designed the project — GYMO Architecture, Engineering & Land Surveying, Watertown, and Ashley McGraw Architects, Syracuse — made “certain errors and omissions in the plans and specifications” that added unnecessary costs, according to a state Supreme Court lawsuit filed this week in the Lewis County clerk’s office. It is seeking damages of $262,172.63.

“The Joint Venture failed to exercise due care in the performance of its professional responsibilities in the design of the renovation and alteration of the existing Lewis County Courthouse and construction of a new facility,” states the lawsuit, filed on the county’s behalf by Alan R. Peterman of Hiscock & Barclay law firm, Syracuse.

“We believe the claim is without merit,” said James E. Hughes of Hancock Estabrook law firm, Syracuse, who is representing GYMO in the matter. “We have been engaged in discussions with the county in an effort to resolve their concerns. I believe the action was commenced to avoid a question regarding timeliness.”

Legislators in June 2010 authorized county attorney Richard J. Graham to take actions deemed necessary against the two firms for “numerous errors and omissions” in their design work, most of which involved the new courthouse building.

While the new courthouse was built within budget, county officials would like to see some type of repayment, Legislature Chairman Jack T. Bush, R-Brantingham, said at the time. He had expressed hope that litigation would not be necessary.

“We have had discussions, but so far they have not been successful,” Mr. Graham said. “So, the only other alternative is to take action, which is what we did.”

The county lawsuit states that Bette & Cring, Watertown, which managed the courthouse project, and various other contractors discovered the purported design issues during construction, resulting in the need for numerous allowance disbursements and change orders.

Such items listed in the suit include modifications to an elevator control circuit, upgrades from 1,600-amp to 2,500-amp service and added work to combine electrical service between the two buildings, addition of four light pole bases and various signs, changes in the heating, ventilation and air-conditioning system, expansion to a mechanic room, replacement of brick and flashing and work on ceilings underneath a stairwell, magnetic door holders and elevator flooring.

The county claims it is owed damages because of “breach of contract and/or architectural malpractice.”

Construction on the $11.5 million court facility, behind the old courthouse off North State Street, began in May 2007. The three-story facility opened for business in June 2008, but much of the exterior work wasn’t completed until summer 2009.

The project also included about $3 million in renovations to the old courthouse, which is being used solely as a county office building. That part of the project was much more costly than the $2 million originally projected. However, most of that increase was attributed to more extensive asbestos removal than planned.

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