October 25, 2014

Elyria
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Grace: Settlement positive for city

City sought $2.5M in City Hall dispute but got a million

ELYRIA — Mayor Bill Grace says the resolution of a lawsuit against the architects of the new City Hall is a positive even though the settlement is less than half of the amount the city had sought.
Last week, Clark & Post Architects of Lorain agreed to pay the city just over $1 million for excessive building costs during the project. In the suit filed against the architects in May 2005, the city requested $2.5 million.
“We threw in everything imaginable to get that number as high up as we could, and both sides came up with very different numbers,” Grace said. “We are very pleased with the number in the settlement.”
The city’s lawsuit claimed the architects failed to evaluate conditions at the 139-year-old City Hall and misled the city into incorporating old City Hall and the Turner Block buildings on Court Street into the new City Hall.
The city argued that the exterior walls of the old City Hall were too frail to have been used as they were supposed to be in the plans drafted by Clark and Post.
Clark and Post, however, argued that the city would have had to pay for much of the additional construction costs either way because the city was dedicated to revamping the old building. The firm said it only should be liable for the increased costs due to the project lasting longer than originally anticipated.
“The settlement essentially covered the cost of the delay and the added cost of doing the work because it was already in progress,” Grace said. “That’s how it works. You almost are never going to get exactly what you are asking for, because a settlement is a negotiation, and neither side is going to get exactly what it is asking for.”
Grace said a lawsuit earlier this year involving Midview Schools and Great Lakes Crushing Co. of Eastlake, which did excavation work for the school, weighed heavily on his mind when looking at settling the city’s suit or taking the case to trial.
In the Midview case, school officials said the company did a substandard job and withheld payment of $295,000 from Great Lakes’ $1.8 million contract in 2004. The contractor offered a settlement, but the school went to court where a jury decided in the company’s favor — saying the school owed the contractor $292,040 for the services.
The district also had to pay $300,000 in attorney fees for the case.
“There’s a reasonable chance that the court would allow us much less and we would have to expend even more legal expenses to get the same deal or something smaller,” Grace said.
The city auditor’s records show the city has paid just less than $104,000 to the Squire, Sanders & Dempsey law firm in Cleveland, which handled the lawsuit. The firm, however, has completed other legal work for the city in that time, and officials in the auditor’s office on Wednesday were unable to break down how much of that $104,000 was for work on the City Hall lawsuit.
Attorney Steve Freidman, from Squire, Sanders & Dempsey, said taking the settlement was a safe choice.
“You never know what could happen if you go to court,” Freidman said. “That’s how settlements work. You come up with a number that is as big as you can get it in the suit, and you settle down from it.”
In addition to the legal fees, Grace said the city spent an additional $20,000 to $50,000 on witness fees for the suit, leaving the city with a net of around $900,000 from the settlement.
Contact Joe Medici at 329-7152 or jmedici@chroniclet.com.