Settlement offer is on the table in 8-year-old courthouse project legal fight

Source: http://gcdailyworld.com, June 23, 2011
By: Nick Schneider

The more than eight-year legal battle by the county to recover damages associated with the Greene County Courthouse addition/renovation project may be over soon.

A joint meeting of the County Commissioners, County Council and Building Corporation is scheduled for 4 p.m. on Monday to consider a settlement agreement resolving all claims in the county’s civil suit against United Consulting Engineers and others that is pending in Owen Circuit Court.

Before the public meeting, the three governmental bodies will meet in a joint executive session at 3 p.m. where legal advisors will spell out the details of the settlement proposal.

Both meetings will be conducted in the third floor meeting room at the courthouse in Bloomfield.

Acceptance of the settlement offer has to take place by a vote conducted in a public meeting, according to Commissioner’s attorney Marilyn Hartman.

Terms of the agreement won’t be announced until the public meeting, Hartman told the Greene County Daily World.

“We have gotten commitments from all of the other parties to a tentative agreement,” Hartman said in explaining if the local bodies approve the settlement Monday, the case will not go to court.

The county is seeking to collect about $6.5 million in unexpected costs related to the original $10.5 million remodeling/renovation project that turned into a $17 million deal.

The courthouse addition/renovation project has been completed for more than three years.

The project was nearly five years going from the drawing board stage to completion. There were a number of delays when allegations of several structural flaws surfaced causing the lawsuit to be filed.

The seven-count, 25-page lawsuit was originally filed Dec. 30, 2004 in Greene Circuit Court on behalf of the county commissioners and building corporation against United Consulting Engineers, Inc., Indianapolis; architects DLZ Indiana, LLC, Indianapolis; and general contractors Weddle Brothers Construction, Co., of Bloomington.

It was later venued to Owen Circuit Court.

Weddle Brothers was originally contracted by the county and completed the construction project with the assistance of a new engineering/architect firm, Strand and Associates.

The other three defendants — United Consulting, DLZ and Alt & Witzig — were subsequently fired by the commissioners, based on a recommendation from the building corporation.

The case has been complicated and Hartman stated, “It has been a very, very long and difficult eight years. … The nature of the litigation had two phases. First off, we had the initial settlement issue and then after that there were issues about the actual stability of the building and the need for additional steel. So, that complicated the litigation tremendously because on what was called Phase 1 you had question of whether it was the fault of the engineers or whether it was the fault of the contractors. What further complicated the matter, Alt & Witzig, which was the soils engineer, did the work under a contract with United Consulting and DLZ. Then they were contracted by Weddle Construction to supervise the actual borings. So, you can imagine that put them on both sides of the fence.”

In February, a Owen County judge ordered the parties to go back to mediation for second time in an effort to bring the lawsuit to a conclusion.

The county is being represented in the suit by the Indianapolis law office of Drewry Simmons Pitts & Vornehm.

Hartman, from the Bloomfield law firm of Hartman & Paddock, is assisting on the local end with the case.

Legal fees for the county, to date, are significantly over $1 million.

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