Downtown library lawsuit alleges subcontractor responsible for problems

Recently filed court documents in a lawsuit over the under-construction downtown library—which has been on hold since April, when a structural failure was detected in the building’s cantilever—blame an out-of-state structural engineering firm for the problem.

Structural steel designs, drawings and specifications prepared by Structural Consultants Associates Inc. were deficient, according to court documents filed by Arch Insurance Solutions Inc., one of several defendants named by the city-parish in the lawsuit filed late last year over the project. Arch goes on to claim “the structural failure that occurred on April 18, 2018 was caused by SCAs inadequate, incomplete and defective structural design.”

SCA was a subcontractor on the project for WHLC Architecture-Schwartz Silver, the city’s architect and program manager. SCA is not based in Louisiana, according to court documents, which do not say where it is located.

WHLC, another defendant in the case, also fingers SCA as the culprit, referring, in its own recent court filings, to “SCA’s negligent acts, errors, omissions and breaches of its obligations.”

Though previous reports and court documents related to the project have alluded to structural failures, the WHLC and Arch Insurance documents are the first to identify which specific subcontractor allegedly bears the bulk of responsibility for the problem, which was detected when a welded joint broke apart.

In late November, the city-parish sued WHLC-Schwartz Silver, the general contractor for the project, Buquet and Leblanc, and their insurance companies for negligence and breach of contract, among other things, after weeks of mediation talks fell through.

The recent documents were filed in answer to that lawsuit.

In its filing, Arch goes on to allege that SCA omitted “necessary information in the structural construction documents … related to structural member loads and forces …” and “failed to properly review the structural steel shop drawings and submittals.”

A Houston-area company that goes by the name Structural Consultants Associates is registered to do business in Louisiana, according to the Louisiana Secretary of State’s website. The company has been in business since 1983 and worked on dozens of major projects throughout the U.S., according to its website. A company official did not return a call seeking comment.

Just because a subcontractor has been publicly named in the suit does not mean the matter is any closer to resolution. Given the number of parties involved and what’s at stake, the case is expected to drag on for months, if not years.

In the meantime, the Library Board of Control and city-parish are considering a measure that would ask the Metro Council to approve fronting some $1.2 million in library board money to begin repairs and resume construction while the case is being litigated.

Such a measure is expected to contain wording that the money will be reimbursed by the responsible party once the case is settled. Library Director Spencer Watts says the board and the city-parish have not made a final decision on fronting the money but are “preparing for the possibility.”

He adds: “It is under serious consideration and careful review.”