Mesa County suit accuses firms that built animal shelter of negligence
A lawsuit brought by Mesa County contends three contractors were negligent in the design and construction of the $3 million Animal Services facility, built in 2010 on a parcel with shifting soils near the county landfill.
The county’s complaint describes in great detail apparently deteriorating conditions, including widespread cracking of the building’s foundation and animal care facilities plagued by moving walls and heaving slabs of concrete.
Those named in the lawsuit claiming negligence and breach of contract are the primary contractor on the project, Denver-based CMC Group. Inc.; Grand Junction-based geotechnical contractor Huddleston-Berry Engineering & Testing, LLC; and architectural and engineering subcontractor Zeiler-Pennock, Inc. of Denver.
“The county has fully performed all of its obligations (on this project),” county spokeswoman Jessica Peterson wrote in an e-mail to The Daily Sentinel. “But as the complaint outlines, we believe the contractors have not adequately performed theirs.”
The allegations in the complaint describe multiple structural failures appearing in the building as soon as four months after the building opened.
“We have seen substantial cracks in the floor slab and walls — as well as in the kennels, door and window frames, ceiling and floor joints, corners and exterior concrete — which have worsened over time,” Peterson wrote in her e-mail. “As a result, some doors have not opened or closed properly, and the floors do not drain as intended.”
The problems, according to the county, appeared before even an inch of concrete was poured for the foundation.
Based on the county’s timeline, Huddleston-Berry provided a geotechnical investigation in November 2008, which included soil analysis and engineering recommendations that “were thereafter relied upon” in construction of the building.
In its complaint, the county claims Huddleston-Berry’s recommendations “were substantially different” from previous geotechnical analyses by other engineers.
In an August 2010 interview with the Sentinel, county project coordinator Dave Detweiler said the building was constructed atop expansive shale. He compared the soils there to a dry sponge that expands when it gets wet.
“You would have to live on another planet not to know we have some expansive soils here in the Grand Valley,” adding that any issues could be avoided through proper engineering,” Mesa County Commissioner Craig Meis said at the time.
The county claims in its lawsuit that the engineering and construction were far from proper.
The lawsuit claims architect Zeiler-Pennock — “through CMC” — designed the foundation to include a “floating” slab, rather than a structural slab, “and tied the slab to certain points in the exterior walls.”
By October 2009, there was substantial cracking, the result of water seeping into the soils beneath the building, according to the county.
All three contractors named in the complaint attempted to remedy the situation during the fall of 2010 by filling in cracks and adding concrete and other materials around the outside of the building, according to the county’s timeline.
But by summer 2011, the county says “substantial heaving and shifting of the soils continued,” causing the cracking problem to spread throughout the facility.
Further, it claims “movement of the floor slabs, including curbs, gutters and outdoor patio slabs; many of the exterior doors have been at times inoperable; water and animal urine infiltrates through the cracks and into the soils beneath the Building on a regular basis.”
The complaint also notes the building was specifically designed to simplify cleaning of the kennels. Each kennel contains a floor drain that is supposed to sit at the foot of a sloping floor to collect feces and urine.
But because of the moving foundation, “the floors have sloped and fallen away from the drains. Many of the floor drains are higher than (the) surrounding floor surface,” the complaint states. The shifting “causes animal waste to drain away from the receptacles and flow into the adjacent pedestrian hallways ...”
The county says staff members now must spend many hours more than planned to clean up the mess. The additional staff expense is one of many areas in which the county is seeking to recover damages. It also seeks relief for the construction materials, the lot, loss of use of the building, relocation expenses, property damage and associated legal costs and fees.
The county paid CMC $3,073,893 for the project, according to the lawsuit.
A counterclaim filed by CMC Oct. 4 contends that Mesa County is in breach of contract for withholding payment of $17,655. In that filing, CMC says it “completed the project and fulfilled all of its duties under the contract.”
CMC also has filed a cross claim against Zeiler-Pennock, claiming the architectural firm was negligent in its design.
No one from either CMC or Zeiler-Pennock returned calls seeking comment for this story.
The local firm named as a defendant in the case, Huddleston-Berry, does a lot of work with Mesa County and still has a number of active projects with it.
“Huddleston-Berry continues to assist the county in understanding the causes of the construction defects. However, we believe that those defects were caused by others,” company co-owner Michael Berry said.