UMass lawsuit seeks nearly $3 million over alleged construction flaws

  • University of Massachusetts campus GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

Staff Writer
Published: 12/3/2020 8:52:53 PM
Modified: 12/3/2020 8:52:43 PM

AMHERST — The University of Massachusetts and the UMass Building Authority are suing eight contractors for almost $3 million for their alleged role in the collapse of ductwork in kitchen exhaust systems at a refurbished dining facility on the Amherst campus.

The lawsuit, filed in Hampshire Superior Court in Northampton Monday, seeks at least $2.86 million in damages related to property damage, lost income and overtime expenses from the companies that were hired for a $19 million overhaul of the Blue Wall Dining Hall at the Lincoln Campus Center that began in 2013.

In the nine-count complaint, the university and building authority maintain that in spring 2018, less than four years after completion of the renovation project, the collapsed ductwork caused operations to be limited for several months at the Blue Wall.

“The defendants’ failure to properly design, construct, test, review, commission and clean the ductwork in the kitchen exhaust systems resulted in their collapse and significant damages to plaintiffs,” states the complaint filed by attorneys Seth V. Jackson and Jeffry A. Gordon of Zelle LLP of Framingham.

The Blue Wall was closed and repairs finished in summer 2019, said UMass spokesman Edward Blaguszewski.

Defendants include project manager Leftfield LLC of Boston, Bruner/ Cott & Associates Inc. of Cambridge, which provided architectural and engineering services, and general contractor Lee Kennedy Co. Inc. of Quincy. In addition, the lawsuit names those responsible for designing, fabricating, installing, and testing the ductwork and the control systems, including the WSP Group’s Boston office; Adams Plumbing & Heating Inc. of Adams; Garcia, Galuska, DeSousa Inc. of Dartmouth; Halton Group Americas Inc. of Scottsville, Kentucky; and Tekon Technical Consultants Inc. of Portsmouth, New Hampshire.

All of the companies contacted Thursday either declined to comment on the litigation or didn’t return phone and email messages.

The lawsuit states that on March 22, 2018, a cleaning company from Hanover, Advantage Hood Cleaning, provided UMass with a list of deficiencies in the independent pollution control unit systems, or PCUs, for 14 individual kitchen hoods at the Blue Wall. Those deficiencies included multiple seam leaks in both systems and the overhead ductwork collapsing in the first system.

Around the same time, both PCU systems were exhibiting damage, including the metal ductwork collapsing inwards, joints being separated and welded seams splitting open, based on an investigation launched by the university and building authority. This investigation determined the deficiencies in the work included the weld quality, lack of safety controls to protect the systems from excess static pressure, and not doing a leak testing performance.

Only the first count in the lawsuit, negligence, is made against all eight companies. “The damage caused to the Blue Wall Dining Hall was avoidable if defendants had utilized due care in the design, construction, engineering, review, testing and commissioning of the kitchen exhaust systems, including the ductwork,” the attorneys write.

Of the remaining counts, breach of contract is brought by the building authority against Bruner/ Cott, Lee Kennedy, Leftfield and WSP, while indemnification is brought by both UMass and the building authority against Bruner/ Cott, Lee Kennedy, Leftfield and WSP.

The Blue Wall project began with demolition in December 2013 and was complete for the academic year beginning in September 2014. The work converted the Blue Wall into a 40,000-square-foot dining facility featuring 12 stations where food could be prepared to order. Those stations included a sushi bar, a salad and wrap bar, a brick-oven pizzeria and an organic cafe and bakery.

Scott Merzbach can be reached at smerzbach@gazettenet.com


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