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Helmut Schmidt, Published October 13 2012

Fargo School District sues contractor over Bluestem ceiling

MOORHEAD – The Fargo School District is suing a Fargo contractor in district court for what it claims is bad workmanship on the ceilings of Trollwood Performing Arts School’s administrative building at the Bluestem Center for the Arts in south Moorhead.

One fix – replacing the tongue-and-groove wood ceilings – could cost $300,000, the district’s lawyer said Friday.

In a civil lawsuit filed Thursday, the School District seeks damages of more than $50,000 against Contemporary Builders Inc., plus attorney’s fees and any other damages the court deems just, according to Clay County District Court documents.

The lawsuit was originally prepared on April 22, 2010.

During the intervening 30 months, the two parties have been discussing what the fix should be, said Joe Wetch, the School District’s attorney.

Wetch said there’s no water leakage or structural damage to the roof of the structure.

But the tongue-and- groove wood used to cover the ceiling throughout the building is shrinking unevenly, causing gaps, some of them large and unsightly, Wetch and district Business Manager Broc Lietz say.

“When it got installed, it was installed improperly, which is causing some of the boards to separate and shrink, throughout the ceiling,” Wetch said.

Wetch said since the School District informed CBI of its lawsuit over the work, CBI has sought to sue at least one of its subcontractors.

Randall Bakke is the attorney representing CBI, Wetch said.

Bakke works at the Bismarck law firm of Smith Bakke Porsborg and Schweigert.

An employee at the firm said Friday that Bakke would not be at the office until Monday.

Wetch said CBI has asked the district to agree to mediation. Wetch said those discussions are in their early stages.

The district has estimates to fix the wood ceilings that run up to $300,000 to rip out all of the decking and replace it, Wetch said.

Contemporary Builders has countered by saying it can fix the problem for much less by applying a wood-colored caulk in the gaps between the boards, which CBI says should be pleasing to the eye, Wetch said.

“The amount (of cost for any repairs) is widely in dispute,” Wetch said.

He said the issue does not involve Bluestem, the fundraising group that until earlier this year ran the Bluestem Center.

The center is the home for the district’s Trollwood Performing Arts School. The city of Moorhead owns the buildings and land at the Bluestem Center. Moorhead has assigned all of its rights to make contractual claims to the Fargo School District, Wetch said.

Wetch estimates that mediation and other legal maneuvers could put off a conclusion to the dispute another six months.

According to the documents filed Thursday: “substantial construction defects have been discovered at the Trollwood Performing Arts School arising out of work completed by CBI. Those defects include, but are not limited to, negligently installing the structural wood roof decking.

“CBI also failed to comply with the project specifications and other material respects, including but not limited to using corrugated fasters (fasteners) in the wood roof decking not specified in the project’s specifications.”

The lawsuit claims that CBI is in breach of contract by not supplying work free of defects, that it breached its warranty on the work, as well as breaching any implied warranties.

A message seeking comment from CBI officials was left Friday at a number identified for CBI in the telephone book and on the Web. However, the number rang to a messaging service for Dabbert Custom Homes and Shadow Creek Development.

The lawsuit is the latest wrinkle in what has been a troubled year for the

$15 million Bluestem Center.

Trollwood Performing Arts School, the primary client of the facility, held its first main stage musical at the site in July 2009.

It was moved to south Moorhead after chronic flooding in its former home in north Fargo’s Trollwood Park.

By last December, the Bluestem fundraisers – which at one time had been known as FutureBuilders in Support of Trollwood Performing Arts School – said their fundraising had stalled. They weren’t able to make a $286,000 bond payment.

From that point, the School District paid the operational and maintenance costs to keep the facility running.

While Bluestem fundraisers wanted to open the facility’s amphitheater to use by other groups, even during the lead-up to the annual Trollwood summer musical, the School District balked, saying those moves could affect the musical and students’ ability to learn.

By April, the Bluestem group proposed that the School District pay the remaining $2.1 million in bonded debt on the facility, saying it could not fundraise for the debt.

A month later, the Bluestem group said it also could not repay a $2.8 million loan from the district needed to finish the center by a deadline set by the state of Minnesota.

Despite talks throughout the summer, Bluestem and Fargo School District could not resolve their differences in philosophy over how to prioritize use of the facility, or agree on how – or if – any of the roughly $5 million in debt could be repaid to the school district.

On Aug. 1, the district took over full control of the Bluestem Center. Shortly after, the Bluestem group said it would dissolve.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Helmut Schmidt at (701) 241-5583

District mulls name change for Bluestem

The Fargo School District is considering rebranding the home of its performing arts school by changing the name of the facility from Bluestem Center for the Arts to the Trollwood Performing Arts Center, said Broc Lietz, business manager for the district.

On Aug. 1, the district took over operation of the Bluestem Center, following the financial troubles of the nonprofit fundraising group – also called Bluestem – that had been running the facility.