RiverCenterLibrary.061318 (copy)

The East Baton Rouge Parish Library River Center Branch on June 13, 2018.

Attorneys for architectural and construction firms caught up in a lawsuit over faulty construction of the River Center Library are blaming the problems on faulty engineering design work.

Work on the building has floundered since April upon a break in the welding that supports a cantilever — a portion of the library that hangs over the sidewalk on the north face.

The city-parish tried to mediate with its construction, engineering and architectural firms, though talks broke down, and now the government has taken its contractors to court.

In a recent filing in the 19th judicial district, the insurance company representing construction firm Buquet & LeBlanc claims the plans drawn up by Structural Consultants Associates, Inc. "caused the structural failure."

According to letters obtained by The Advocate, Buquet & LeBlanc blamed SCA for problems with the building within days of the welding break, but now the allegations are part of the court record.

The library’s architectural firm has also found the engineers culpable.

SCA was an engineering sub-consultant to a joint venture of WHLC Architecture and Schwartz/Silver. As of Thursday afternoon, the engineers had not filed a response to the lawsuit — or even enrolled an attorney — and company officials did not respond to a request for comment.

The initial city-parish suit found fault with WHLC-SS, the architectural contractors who were also the project manager for the River Center branch project.

The firm, through its staff and subcontractors, breached its obligations by allowing work to proceed “with knowledge of design issues and other conflicts, and by not properly committing and coordinating with structural design parties,” their petition claims.

“In preparing its designs for the River Center Branch Library, WHLC-SS owed a duty to bidders and the City/Parish to ensure the design’s accuracy and adequacy. … During the course of its work, WHLC-SS failed to meet its contractual obligations under the Library Project by performing inadequate architectural designs and poor project management work,” city-parish attorneys wrote.

Buquet & LeBlanc, the construction company, puts the blame on SCA, and specifically notes that they are “unaware of any deficiency in the architectural designs prepared by WHLC-SS that caused or contributed to the structural failure.”

In their own response to the city-parish’s lawsuit, the architects deny any wrongdoing, breach of duty or assertions that they acted in bad faith. Joining the construction company, the architects also pointed to SCA — their own subcontractors.

SCA assumed certain duties, obligations and liabilities when they accepted their contract, and it is they who were negligent, the architects charged.

SCA’s structural design was “inadequate, incomplete and defective,” and omitted necessary information, WHLC-SS wrote in court documents.

As the suit winds through court, library officials are trying to see if they can get construction restarted after a nine-month lull. The system is looking to see where it can cut costs or draw from its reserve to resume building the River Center branch, Parish Librarian Spencer Watts said.

However, staff is still trying to determine how much money that will take and haven’t set a deadline to bring a proposal to the library board, Watts said.

Construction was originally expected to cost about $19 million. Buquet & LeBlanc have estimated that repairs due to the structural failure will run about $2 million.


Follow Steve Hardy on Twitter, @SteveRHardy.