WEST SENECA, N.Y. – The Town of West Seneca intends to sue the engineering and architecture firms involved in the construction of the Burchfield Nature and Art Center, which closed in January due to structural issues and may cost about $1 million to repair.
Town attorney John Fenz confirmed the notices of claim will be served to Nussbaumer & Clarke, an engineering firm based in Hamburg, as well as the Buffalo-based architecture company Louis Design Solutions. After a 90-day period, the town can then pursue a civil lawsuit against the two companies as a part of a “design defect” case.
“For the taxpayers, at the very least, the legal action we’re going to take is an attempt to recover that money,” Councilman Eugune Hart said. “And then use that money to restore the building.”
The town, which hired outside legal counsel to handle the matter, may seek as much as $1.7 million in combined damages against the two firms, Fenz said.
At a public meeting on Monday evening, outside forensic architect Kenneth Pearl told the town council that “human error” in the blueprint process led to the deterioration of the Burchfield Center, which opened in 2001 and has served as a major cultural and arts facility for more than a decade.
Not even two decades later, the wood stud walls are already rotting and decaying, according to Pearl. Although the building is not in immediate danger of collapsing, the conditions were dire enough to force the town to evacuate the building over the winter.
Overall, Pearl estimated at least $993,000 will be required to pay for all repair costs.
Although he provided cost figures and examined causes of deterioration, Pearl clarified he was not involved whatsoever in the town’s decision to pursue legal action against the two companies.
Brian Louis, the founder of Louis Design Solutions Architecture, told 2 On Your Side in an email that he had not seen the allegations yet and could not comment on the potential legal action against his company.
Nussbaumer & Clarke's leadership told 2 On Your Side on Monday afternoon that the firm had not yet been contacted by the Town of West Seneca. The company could not be reached for comment following the town’s announcement that notices of claim will be served.
At the advice of legal counsel, Pearl’s entire report about the conditions at the Burchfield Center has not been made public. However, Pearl addressed the public for about 15 minutes at the meeting at town hall on Monday evening, describing the major findings from his investigation along with a visual presentation.
“This is the first step in letting the public know everything we know,” Councilman Hart said. “And we will let the public know everything else in the report as soon as we can.”
It is unclear at this point how much the town spent to pay for Pearl's report. It is also unclear how much the town is spending to pay for outside legal services as it pursues litigation against Nussbaumer & Clarke and Louis Design Solutions.