Convention Center gets $24m for errors

August 11, 2010

The Massachusetts Convention Center Authority has settled its lawsuit against the project's design firms for $24 million.

The deal, approved by the authority's board of directors yesterday, will cover repairs to the Boston Convention & Exhibition Center, primarily its roof drainage system, mechanical air-handling units, and roadway expansion joints and drains. In its suit against HNTB Corp., Rafael Vinoly Architects, R.G. Vanderweil Engineers, and Shen Milsom & Wilke, the authority blamed them for design errors that increased the cost of the project.

The problems at the $800 million convention center, which opened in June 2004, included a leaky roof, defective heat and air conditioning -- pipes froze in one section of the building -- and a faulty public address system.

Authority officials said the problems are being repaired or have been already, and that the settlement will recoup money spent on repairs. Visitors to the building will not notice the problems, they said.

The authority already has spent $12 million to $14 million fixing the problems, mostly during construction, and it expects the rest of the permanent repairs to be done over the next two years, said James E. Rooney, executive director.

"It's important that people who made mistakes are held accountable," he said. "We as the custodians of the taxpayers' dollars -- designing the building, overseeing construction -- we had expectations that were not met, and we held people accountable that they weren't met."

The architectural firm Rafael Vinoly is known for its work on buildings worldwide, including the Tokyo International Forum, a complex for civic events; the University of Chicago's Graduate School of Business; and the Cleveland Museum of Art.

HNTB Corp., based in Kansas City, provides design, engineering and planning services, including sports architecture projects such as the Denver Broncos' home, Invesco Field at Mile High.

R.G. Vanderweil worked on the convention center's mechanical, electrical, plumbing, and roof-drainage systems, while Shen Milsom worked on its public address system.

Shen Milsom declined to comment yesterday.

The other three defendants released a statement that said: "We place great value on our relationships with the Massachusetts Convention Center Authority and the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. We are proud of the architectural achievement of the Boston Convention & Exhibition Center, which is now one of the top 10 convention facilities in the nation, and hope it will serve the people of Boston and the Commonwealth for many years to come."

The settlement came as the trial was well underway. Jurors had been hearing testimony in Suffolk Superior Court for five weeks.

The settlement includes $22 million from HNTB, Rafael Vinoly, and R.G. Vanderweil, as well as a previous $1.25 million settlement with Shen Milsom. The defendants also agreed to waive a counterclaim for $800,000 against the authority.

In its suit, filed in 2004, the authority accused the convention center's design team of making so many errors, omissions, and deficiencies that it amounted to "negligence and professional malpractice" and breach of contract.

In addition to the problems with the building itself, the authority also said that the roads outside the convention center did not drain storm water properly, so that water leaked into portions of the convention center below. The original fire alarm system did not include "literally hundreds of fire detection and fire alarm trigger devices -- including pull stations, smoke detectors, fire alarm horns, and remote fire alarm indicators -- that were required by state and local fire codes," the authority alleged.

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