SW settles one lawsuit, still two pending
By Dan Hust
LAKE HUNTINGTON The Sullivan West school district has one less lawsuit to worry about.
On Monday, board members voted 7-1 to approve a settlement with Leeward Construction, the company that handled sitework and building construction of the high school in Lake Huntington. Noel van Swol was the sole dissenter, while Angela Daley was absent.
SW Superintendent Ken Hilton said the deal was a good one for the district, which continues to pursue litigation against Turner Construction Company and Hillier Group Architecture, the construction management and architectural firms, respectively, that provided services to the district during the design and construction of the high school.
“I think the board made a wise decision,” said Hilton, who had recommended they accept the agreement. “It really has cleaned up the litigation for the district.”
In February, an appeals court threw out a $50,000 suit against the district by Finnegan’s Warehouse, which had moved much of the existing equipment into the high school. But a tangled web of litigation with other companies involved much higher amounts.
According to Hilton, Leeward was suing SW for $1.7 million, alleging that delays and cost increases in the building of the high school had harmed the Honesdale, Pa.-based company.
“Yes, we did bear some culpability,” the superintendent remarked (though the settlement agreement officially denies responsibility by either party).
Hilton said, however, that Leeward eventually saw that Turner and Hillier were “the biggest villains” in the matter and thus offered SW a settlement. The following terms were negotiated and accepted by both parties:
• “We agreed to pay to Leeward $300,000 up front,” explained Hilton, adding that the district already had $135,000 set aside for Leeward, and the remaining $165,000 will come out of the legal fund of the school’s budget.
• “We will pay to Leeward the first $200,000 of any settlement we reach with Turner and Hillier,” Hilton continued.
• “We will pay five percent of any additional settlement amount above $200,000 [with Turner and Hillier],” he added, meaning that if SW gets more than $200,000 from Turner or Hillier, Leeward will automatically receive the first five percent up to a cap of $150,000.
“By agreeing to this settlement, we are protecting the taxpayers from a much larger settlement,” said Hilton.
For those who still think the terms are generous, the superintendent explained that Leeward is now, in essence, on SW’s side in pursuing legal recompense from Turner and Hillier, which it’s also suing.
“Much of their expert testimony is going to help our case,” he said.
Van Swol thought the district’s case was already strong and felt this compromise was unnecessary and a further burden on taxpayers.
“I don’t think the firm is entitled to a dime,” he said yesterday. “I think this is an admission on the part of the district of some responsibility, which I totally deny.”
Board President Richard Sandler, who signed the agreement, felt the superintendent and school attorney’s advice was sound.
“We are moving forward,” Sandler remarked, unable to comment further on the ongoing litigation.
HS structural issues
Discovered last summer, the structural defects with the high school’s second floor are still being fixed, said Hilton.
“We have been working with BBL [an engineering firm that was involved in the school’s construction] very cooperatively,” he remarked. “They recognize there are issues with the second floor.”
Workers have been strengthening the floor which was not built with the materials called for in the design over the winter and spring breaks and will do so again when school lets out this month.
Hilton expects the work to be finished this summer, and no fees have been charged.
“Of course, some of the kids will miss them,” he remarked of the shoring posts that will soon disappear.
Several of the posts which often stand in conspicuous spots have been decorated, including one in the nurse’s office designed to look like a thermometer.