Contractor sues city for $519,000

First Posted: 1/15/2009

LUMBERTON - A contractor for the new City Hall has sued the city for $519,000 he claims is still owed on the project.
But city officials say they don't plan to pay the disputed amount because the company failed to fulfill the contract and was more than a year late in finishing the work.
Pro Construction Inc., of Jacksonville, filed its lawsuit on March 28 in Robeson County Superior Court. It lists the City of Lumberton and the project's architects, Overcash-Demmitt of Charlotte, as defendants.
The dispute hinges on the installation of audio-visual equipment and a security system. Pro-Construction says they were not part of the contract. The city disagrees, saying it is withholding about $260,000 for the cost of the systems as well as a $1,000 per day charge for the 260 days the project was delayed.
The city broke ground on the three-story, 45,000-square-foot building in July 2002. The systems were installed in May, nine months after the city moved into the new building.
City Attorney Kevin Whiteheart said the city paid the company about $5.5 million over the four-year construction.
But Ryal Tayloe, a lawyer for the company, says that the city owes the contractor more money. Tayloe said the company has correspondence from former City Manager Todd Powell and former City Attorney Al Benshoff assuring Pro Construction officials that the installation work would not be part of the contract.
&#8220We got it in writing … that those systems were not included in our contract,” Tayloe said. &#8220It was more than what they wanted. (They said) that they would have them redesigned and they would come back and have us rebid on it after it was redesigned.”
In a response to the lawsuit that was filed June 12, the city says the document that matters is the contract the company signed to do the work. The response says: &#8220If the alleged communications between Overcash and Pro Construction were unclear, the contract was in fact signed by the general contractor, and was not unclear.”
It went on to say that Powell &#8220had no authority to make such agreement that would be binding on the city” because it would require the City Council's approval.
The city contends that delays in completing the project were also the contractor's fault because Pro Construction failed &#8220to sufficiently staff the project … create sufficient timelines and … conduct the project with reasonable workmanlike effort.”
Tayloe called the situation &#8220unfortunate.”
&#8220We tried very hard before the lawsuit was ever filed to resolve this dispute,” Tayloe said. &#8220My client, Pro Construction, is extremely proud of this project. The new City Hall is a beautiful building. You'll notice in the pleading that there are no defaults in the construction.”

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