BLOOMINGTON — A McLean County jury rejected claims from a Peoria construction company for $1.6 million in damages from Heartland Community College on Tuesday, instead awarding the firm about $10,000 in connection with a dispute over a 10-month delay in construction of the school's Fitness and Recreation Center.
Williams Brothers Construction Inc. sought the damages from the Normal-based college for correcting a deficiency discovered in the early stages of construction of the facility in June 2009 and delays resulting from a disagreement over how to fit it.
The rec center was one of six buildings Williams Brothers completed on the campus as part of a $50 million expansion.
The $10,628 awarded to Williams Brothers covers the expense of weather-related repairs to an elevated running track resulting from the stalled construction.
The jury turned down the company's bid to be reimbursed $157,000 for work on a 114-foot steel girder truss and supporting column at the heart of the problem and another $1.3 million in costs resulting from the delay.
Workers noticed the girder truss and column had shifted from their proper location, causing Heartland, Williams Brothers and architect BLDD to agree to halt the work until the problem could be investigated. Work continued on other parts of the building, but the project could not be finished until the girder and column issue was fixed.
According to testimony and letters introduced during the trial, Williams Brothers and Heartland reached different conclusions on the cause of the problem and who should be responsible for repairs. They disagreed on whether the shift was the result of poor design or poor construction.
The jury deliberated about 90 minutes Tuesday afternoon after a week of testimony.
After the verdict, Heartland President Rob Widmer said: "We are very pleased with the outcome. We feel we presented a stellar case from our perspective."
In closing arguments Tuesday, Williams Brothers' attorney Stanley Wasser said the construction firm's proposed remedy for the girder problem was rejected by Heartland and BLDD, resulting in the delay.
Despite its disagreement with Heartland's plan to fix the problem, Williams Brothers made the repairs as ordered, said Wasser.
Williams Brothers was entitled to $1.6 million in damages to cover unpaid bills for those repairs and the costs associated with an additional 42 weeks of having workers and equipment available for the project, Wasser argued.
Heartland attorney Matthew Booker argued that beginning in June 2009 and throughout six years of litigation, Williams Brothers refused to accept responsibility for the problems.
"Williams Brothers insisted 'it's not our fault and we're not paying for it,'" Booker told the jury.
The alleged delay-related damages also were recently revised and have not been substantiated, said Booker.
Heartland board Chairman Gregg Chadwick said at Tuesday night’s board meeting it was good that Heartland “stuck to our guns and saved us a lot of money” rather than settling out of court.
He called the verdict “better than any of us could’ve hoped for.”