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Amy Dalrymple, Forum News Service, Published February 04 2012

NDSU suing three contractors for Minard Hall collapse

FARGO – North Dakota State University is suing three contractors over the December 2009 collapse of Minard Hall, a setback that authorities say added nearly $5 million to the cost of renovating the largest academic building on campus.

In a court complaint, the attorney for NDSU alleges 21 counts related to breach of contract and negligence against JLG Architects, Heyer Engineering and Northern Technologies Inc., all of Fargo. NTI was the geotechnical engineer, Heyer was responsible for the structural engineering, and JLG was the architect.

The complaint has been served against the parties, but is not yet filed in Cass County District Court. Fargo attorney Dan Hull, who is representing NDSU, released the complaint and the parties’ answers to The Forum on Friday.

The lawsuit claims each party did the following:

The complaint also alleges that Heyer Engineering and NTI misrepresented that the slope of the excavation was sufficient.

NDSU is asking for damages in an amount to be determined at trial. The damages NDSU attributes to the collapse include the cost of demolishing parts of Minard, relocating classrooms and offices, redesigning the north addition and other labor and materials.

NDSU and the state Board of Higher Education have said the collapse will increase the cost of the Minard Hall renovation by $4.87 million.

JLG Architects, Heyer Engineering and NTI each deny the allegations made by NDSU.

JLG’s answer to the complaint says it was not the responsibility of the architect to “design an excavation.”

JLG’s attorneys say the architecture firm authorized Heyer to retain NTI for the limited purpose of “design of geo-shoring system at west and east sides of north addition.” That system did not fail and did not cause the collapse, the document states.

The attorneys for JLG and Heyer maintained it was NDSU that had responsibility for geotechnical services, land survey services and environmental studies.

NTI’s answer says the firm did not do anything that caused the damages.

NDSU is also suing the State Fire and Tornado Fund for rejecting the university’s claim. Hull said that lawsuit is in the discovery stage.

In rejecting the claim, the state insurance fund said the collapse was fundamentally caused by “a deep and unsupported excavation with a steep slope next to the foundation of” Minard Hall, which reduced the needed soil support.

Hull would not answer whether the university is pursuing litigation against any other parties.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Amy Dalrymple at (701) 241-5590