Traverse City Record-Eagle

February 3, 2013

Leelanau county may sue over ice problem

Leelanau thinks government center has construction flaw


SUTTONS BAY — Jerry Culman II noticed a problem with the Leelanau County Government Center back in the winter of 2009.

At the southeast corner building, Culman, the county's maintenance director, spotted what appeared to be a significant ice buildup on the roof. The presence of ice seemed odd for a nearly new building, and it caused him concern.

"We visually saw the ice dam, so the next step was to figure out why," Culman said.

Improperly installed insulation caused the ice problem, an investigation found. And now, after nearly three years of inquiry and negotiations, Leelanau County officials said they are considering suing the building's contractor, Devere Construction, for what they contend is a significant construction flaw.

County Administrator Chet Janik said insulation was not installed all the way to the building's roof trusses, a shortcoming he said causes significant heat loss, ventilation problems and resulting ice buildup and overhanging icicles every winter.

"When the ice comes off the roof in the Spring, it puts a four-foot hole in the ground," Culman said. "You can see how much weight is there."

Devere Construction issued the following statement to the Record-Eagle:

"We've met with the county administrator. We would be willing to work with them and evaluate the issue and get the original (sub)contractor who did that work out there to address it and correct any deficiencies."

The county building off M-204 is recognized by many as one of the nicest government edifices in the state. It cost Leelanau County taxpayers $10.6 million to build, and when it opened in February 2008, some employees called it the "Taj Mahal."

The brown brick, 68,000-square-foot structure sits next to the county law enforcement center on 46 acres.

Janik said former county Administrator David Gill told him he investigated the matter and Devere Construction officials promised a fix that never came about.

Janik repeatedly contacted Devere Construction, and at one point said he was told the builder's warranty on the building had expired.

Janik responded in an email, saying:

"I must respectfully remind you that per Michigan (law,) Leelanau County has an obligation to mitigate its damages and that the statute of limitations is six years. I certainly hope that for both parties' sake, this legal process does not have to be pursued, but it will be an option if the county has to recover its expenses ... I look forward to working with you to find a satisfactory solution to this ongoing problem that has existed for the past five years."

Janik said the county Board of Commissioners voted to give him the authority to explore all options to get the building repaired, including a lawsuit.

Culman said county taxpayers can be proud of the beautiful building, ice problems notwithstanding. He said the insulation deficiency is fixable, but it could cost close to $100,000 to repair.

"It's going to entail using scaffolding and possible two-man lifts," Culman said. "They'll have to pull back the soffet, the eaves where the air flows up and over, and install insulation. They will also have to contend with our irrigation and landscaping. It's going to be costly and time-consuming and on the side of the building that has a sloped yard."