City Hall is preparing to file a lawsuit over construction problems at the downtown Baton Rouge library, where work halted in April and engineers are investigating what went wrong.
The East Baton Rouge Metro Council approved a $67,500 contract Wednesday for the national engineering consulting firm Exponent to investigate the building’s problems.
Tedrick Knightshead, representing the Baton Rouge Parish Attorney's office, told Metro Council members that the contract with the third-party engineering firm is for litigation purposes.
Exponent began its review of the problems at the library in late April under a $17,500 contract.
"We clearly feel that a suit is going to be filed in the matter," Knightshead told council members. He declined to specify which entities the city-parish would file suit against, but said they are reviewing the work of architects and subcontractors.
Knightshead said no one involved in the project has admitted fault at this point. If someone does admit fault and agrees to pay damages, that could avert a lawsuit over the $19 million project, he said.
Parish Attorney Lea Anne Batson told council members she is "hopeful there is no litigation," but that a third-party engineer will help the city-parish to identify what caused the library's construction problems and what measures need to be taken to fix them.
If the city-parish does file a lawsuit, Knightshead said, the council will seek damages that include reimbursing Exponent’s contract, paying for the lag in construction and more.
Until then, the money going toward Exponent has been set aside for litigation and the library system will supplement it, Knightshead said.
Council members bemoaned the state of the under-construction building. Councilwoman Donna Collins-Lewis said she did not want it to become an unfinished eyesore looming over downtown while a lawsuit plays out over years.
Knightshead said, though, that a remediation plan for how to fix the construction issues at the library is in the works. A structural engineer for the downtown River Center Branch Library identified nearly 20 steel connections in the building that he asked the contractor to uncover for examination, according to emails between the engineer and city-parish officials. Communications between the entities involved have previously blamed “two compromised steel connections” for the problems.
The president of Buquet and LeBlanc, which is the contractor building the project, sent an April 23 letter to city-parish officials that blamed the problems on the library’s design, rather than his workers constructing it or the building materials they used. Architects from WHLC estimated April 19 that repairs would be in place and the contractor could go back to work by April 20.
Councilwoman Barbara Freiberg asked how long the city-parish would need the contract with Exponent. Knightshead said they would need it until litigation concludes.
Councilwoman Chauna Banks said she hopes Exponent will find remedies to any possible building instability. She added, “every time I pass there, I think, Lord, don’t let the building fall on me.”