Kane files suit over courthouse roof — Chicago Tribune

Charges link decay, lead contamination

Kane County filed a lawsuit in Circuit Court on Monday charging companies including architectural firms and material suppliers with responsibility for the unkempt appearance and potentially hazardous degradation of the copper-clad roof on the county’s decade-old Judicial Center in St. Charles.

According to the complaint, analysis of pond sediment samples taken in May and August showed concentrations of lead of up to 10 times that allowed by the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency. About 85 percent of the pond floor was found to be contaminated in excess of allowable concentrations, according to the complaint.

Expanded environmental testing of the air and soil at the judicial center is ongoing, said Kane County Board Chairman Mike McCoy (R-Aurora). A testing company was taking soil samples Tuesday near the pond, which drains to Mill Creek, McCoy said.

"We’re worried that [lead] may have discharged off-site," McCoy said. Results of the environmental testing are expected within a few weeks, he said.

The 22-count lawsuit was filed on behalf of the Kane County Public Building Commission after months of meetings with all the parties involved in building the center, but the talks failed to produce a negotiated plan to replace it. McCoy said the cost of replacing the roof has been estimated at about $700,000.

Allegations in the lawsuit range from breach of contract to negligence and product liability. The county is seeking damages of at least $50,000 from each of seven defendants.

The 170,000-square-foot judicial center was completed in 1993 for about $30 million. The county’s criminal courts and other judicial offices and services are housed in the building.

The problems with the roof stem from concerns expressed in recent years over its uneven, disheveled appearance. From a distance, the roof looks to be streaked or stained with tones of gray and black that resemble spilled paint.

According to the lawsuit, the lead-coated copper roofing material "selected, sold, installed and manufactured by the defendants was to achieve an even gray appearance."

The current appearance, however, is caused by large parts of the roof’s lead coating being washed away by rain and snow, officials said. The lead coating is completely gone in some areas, said Larry Briggs, the county’s director of central services.

Tests of the building’s rainwater collection system and sampling of the soil below its downspouts prompted the county to charge the design and construction firms named in the suit with having caused environmental harm to the area.

The four defendants most directly involved in the project and named in the lawsuit are: Wight & Co, of Downers Grove; Frederick Quinn Corp. of Addison; Specialty Associates Inc. of West Allis, Wis.; and Hussey Copper Ltd. of Leetsdale, Pa.

Wight was the lead architect on the project. Quinn was the general contractor. Specialty Associates was involved with installation of the roof panels. Hussey Cooper manufactured the roof panels.

The firms named in the lawsuit are not expected to be served formal notice of the complaint until later this week, said Assistant State’s Atty. Elizabeth Flood.

Attempts to reach attorneys or principals with Quinn and Hussey were unsuccessful. Jim Wiess, a project manager with Specialty Associates, declined to comment on the suit, as did a spokesman for Wight & Co.

According to county records, Hussey had agreed in March to consider replacing the roofing materials at no charge but declined to pay for a contractor to do the work. The firm had offered theories in an unsuccessful attempt to explain the degradation, according to minutes of the County Board’s Administration Committee.

Kane County first notified Wight, Quinn and Hussey in November 2001 that "the roofing material provided for the construction of the judicial center was subject to continuing defects," the suit said.

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