Gaillard project lawsuit adds city

The new Gaillard Center in downtown Charleston opened in October, six months later than expected.

The company that managed the renovation and expansion of the Gaillard Center has added the city of Charleston to a lawsuit, blaming the city for delaying the project by furnishing a deficient design.

Skanska-Trident, which had a $110 million contract with the city to build the center, is seeking a minimum of $20 million in damages.

The Gaillard was supposed to be completed in April 2015, but the project came in six months late. The city and the company had a special “construction manager at risk” contract, which sets a maximum price for the completion instead of simply going with the lowest bid.

In the amended suit filed Thursday in Circuit Court, Skanska-Trident accused the city of breach of contract, breach of warranty of plans and specifications and unjust enrichment.

City Attorney Frances Cantwell said in a statement that the city has the lawsuit and is reviewing it.

“We do not believe the claim has any merit,” she said, “and we will vigorously defend against it.”

The city isn’t insured against such damages, she said. So, if it loses the case, the cost would be passed on to taxpayers.

In the original suit filed Jan. 8, Skanska-Trident sued three architectural groups and a project-management company for delays and for driving up the project’s cost.

The company accused David M. Schwarz Architects, Earl Swensson Associates, Evans & Schmidt Architects and The Projects Group of negligence and negligent misrepresentation under restatement of torts. All but The Projects Group also were accused of breach of warranty of plans and specifications.

Pamela Monastra, spokeswoman for Skanska USA, in a prepared statement said the city furnished a deficient design and then refused to grant time extensions for delays caused by circumstances beyond the company’s control.

Last October, Skanska-Trident gave the city a detailed request for an equitable adjustment, she said. The deal sought a time extension and additional compensation for the extra costs that the company and its subcontractors incurred.

“Skanska-Trident sought to work with the city and its design team to resolve this matter in an amicable manner, but to no avail,” Monastra said.

The city didn’t respond to the request, rejected additional requests for mediation and refused to engage in any settlement dialogue unless its designers participated in the discussions, she said. But the designers refused to do so a timely manner.

“Accordingly, Skanska-Trident filed suit against the designers and project manager in hopes of initiating settlement discussions,” she said. “However, the city still refused to engage in discussions, leaving Skanska-Trident with no choice but to add the city to the lawsuit.”

Revamping the Gaillard was one of former Mayor Joe Riley’s highest priorities during his last term in office. The new center includes a state-of-the-art 1,800-seat concert hall, an exhibit hall and a wing for city offices.

Reach Diane Knich at 843-937-5491 or on Twitter @dianeknich.