But the cracks were the symptom, not the real problem. The building was sinking, city spokeswoman Emily Estes-Cross said.
Once an investigation revealed even more cracks in the chambers, Spokane Valley moved their City Council meetings to another building and sealed off the chambers. They are suing the builders to pay the yet unspecified costs of repairs. The city has set aside $700,000 for legal fees.
Trial is set to begin in August 2024, although it will likely be delayed, Haley said.“We’re hoping to resolve it in mediation,” said Haley, who has been on the City Council eight years.
Employees still work in the building, which is three stories tall, Estes-Cross said. That’s because the problems appear to be contained in the City Council chambers.
“If there were any life safety issues, they were immediately fixed,” Estes-Cross said. “We stabilized it right away.”
Spokane Valley was once a sprawling suburban area directly east of Spokane, close to the Idaho border. Worried they would be annexed by more-liberal Spokane, the residents voted to form their own city in 2003. With 107,000 residents, it is the ninth-largest city in Washington.
Employees of the new city first worked in a leased building on Sprague Avenue, which is basically the city center of this city without a true downtown.
Spokane Valley is perhaps best known as a conservative bastion. Former Republican State Rep. Matt Shea, who was booted from the Legislature for supporting domestic terrorists, hailed from here.
But politicians did not construct City Hall.The $14 million building was designed and built by Meridian Construction, Architects West, Allwest Testing & Engineering and Eight31 Consulting. Those companies were sued in 2020 by Spokane Valley to pay for the repairs. The companies tried unsuccessfully to get the lawsuit dismissed. Rick Wetmore, an attorney for Dunn & Black who represents Meridian Construction, said the lawsuit was premature. While he acknowledged there are issues with the building, they are “greatly overstated by the city.”
Meridian Construction would prefer a negotiated solution, he said. “Always negotiation is the best resolution,” he said. “We are continuing efforts toward that end.”
Haley said the lawsuit was not premature. “We have not gotten a whole lot of cooperation from Meridian Construction,” she said. “We had to [sue] to get them to come to the table.”
Spokane Valley officials are not waiting around for a court fix. They voted in January to award two contracts totaling about $4.4 million to investigate and repair the defects in City Hall.
City officials believe the builders failed to properly compact the soil under the curved northeast wall of the building, where the cracks appeared and the foundation is sinking, Estes-Cross said..
Workers already have installed concrete pillars underneath that wall to prevent it from sinking further; improved fireproofing of the two main staircases; and repaired the HVAC system. These repairs have cost $800,000 so far.
The city is using a concept called progressive design build to do the work.
Basically, Spokane Valley is asking Garco Construction to physically assess specific areas of City Hall and determine whether the original construction met project specifications. Garco can fix problems as it finds them. Progressive design builds are uncommon, and the city needed approval from the state Department of Enterprise Services’ Project Review Committee to bypass some bidding requirements.
If the city had taken a traditional approach, it would have had to solicit bids from contractors every time it found a new problem.
Wetmore, the attorney for Meridian Construction, said the repair contract seems like a waste of money while the case is still being litigated.
The state of Washington demands that city projects go to the lowest bidder. “That has bitten us a few times,” Haley said. “There is an argument that the lowest possible price might not be best.”
But the City Hall issue has not resulted in political ramifications for elected officials, Haley said.
“Not at all,” she said. “Everybody understands what happened and they are very positive.”
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