Costly collapse: Courthouse project nearly finished
In 2004, the City and County approved the renovation of the old Juvenile & Domestic Relations Court on High Street. The projected $12 million project also included a new 3-level, 91-space parking deck.
Today, the project is finally nearing completion, but at a cost that has rocketed to $19.9 million. That's nearly three Downtown Mall renovation projects.
Built in 1902, the Colonial Revival building that housed the jail was originally Elks Lodge No. 389 and featured a library, a card room, a billiard parlor, and even a bowling alley. Early photographs of the lodge show the building with a big four-column portico on the front with a giant elk or deer head attached to its pediment.
A major fire in the late 1940s destroyed much of the building, and when it was later renovated, local architect Floyd Johnson chose not to rebuild the portico. Other distinguishing features include double fan arches over the front door and the window above, two pilasters corresponding with Doric columns, and a rusticated fa§ade on which every fifth brick is indented.
Part of the reason the renovation has taken so long, and cost so much, is the fact that a section of the building collapsed during construction in March 2006. Construction was delayed not only by the costly mishap, but also by the costly litigation that followed.
“It’s the City’s position that it was the fault of the contractor and/or subcontractors,” said City attorney Craig Brown in May 2007. “But we’re hoping to have this whole thing resolved this week.”
Try two more years.
The City would eventually file a lawsuit accusing Kenbridge Construction and excavation company J.A. Walder of "cutting corners" to maximize profits on the City's dollar, and claiming that the city had to hire a structural engineer to fix the building while Kenbridge refused to go back to work. Of course, Kenbridge fired back with its own lawsuit, accusing the city of supplying "inaccurate or inadequate" plans, and then for good measure went after subcontractor Walder, accusing it of negligence.
According to the engineers the city hired, the "design and method of installation of the underpinning system caused the 'soil wedge' supporting the footings to slide out from underneath the building, and the unsupported wall to collapse." The city maintained this was the responsibility of Kenbridge and Walden. Construction eventually continued, though at a snail's pace.
According to Brown, a face-off in court was finally avoided when all parties agreed to sit down for three days of mediation in January 2009.
Kenbridge, which would be responsible for the cost of repairing the wall, agreed to let the city keep $410,000 it was holding as a retainer, plus pay an additional $110,000. According to Brown, that's about enough to cover the city's out-of-pocket costs, which include engineering fees after the collapse, attorney fees, and a redesign by the project architect, Richmond-based Moseley & Associates. In return, the city agreed not to seek damages for the project's lengthy delay. But don't cry for Kenbridge. They received over $1 million in insurance pay-outs for the mishap.
In the end, as part of the mediation agreement, no one was officially held responsible for the collapse, although Kenbridge was held responsible for getting the project finished before June 30, 2009. (Apparently, though, that's not going to happen. According to Judy Mueller, the city's public works director, the project won't be finished until mid-July.) As Brown seems to suggest, the City may not be entirely happy with the outcome, seeing as the project cost nearly $8 million more than expected, and took years to complete.
Asked if he thought the settlement was fair, Brown says, "Nobody gets everything they want."
As for the the courthouse's new look, it is seeing a return to the original Elks Lodge design, complete with the four-column portico on the front, although without the pediment and giant elk or deer head.