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City-parish withholding payment to architect over downtown library issues

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BATON ROUGE – The city-parish is withholding as much as $345,000 from the architects leading the construction project of the new downtown library as a special team of engineers look into the cause of a perceived structural design failure earlier this year.

The city said it is holding payment on the final invoices sent by designers WHLC Architecture while the investigation into the April snafu unfolds.

“[WHLC] last invoiced the city-parish at the end of May but that invoice has not been paid pending the outcome of investigation of the structure,” a city-parish attorney told WBRZ Tuesday.

Future invoices will not be paid until the investigation is complete, the city-parish said.

The balance on the design work is $345,700.

The city expects to spend about $1.5 million on the design of the downtown library.

The design contract with WHLC Architecture for the beleaguered project was obtained through a series of ongoing public records requests filed by the WBRZ Investigative Unit as the watchdog journalism team reports on the issues surrounding the now infamous construction project. Most recently, WBRZ reported the city-parish had forwarded all correspondence concerning the situation to the parish attorney as it looks toward a possible lawsuit.

In April, the library – officially the River Center Branch Library – at the corner of St. Louis and North Boulevard suffered a “simultaneous rupture” of key supports of the cantilevered section of the building. When the incident occurred, people scurried away from the project site. The contractor said it “raised immediate concerns regarding life safety” and prompted area evacuations.

Contractor Buquet & Leblanc has maintained it is not responsible and blamed designers. 

Designers bill as much as $300/hour, WBRZ found in the contract. The contract is paid out over the course of just over three-and-a-half years and covers the initial planning phase, an estimated 600-day construction phase and the closeout phase.

WHLC Architecture has not made company executives available for an interview.

Friday, the city-parish began a “no comment” policy on the library snafu as it enters into possible litigation.

“Because there is the potential for litigation, we will not comment further and have asked the Mayor’s office not to comment.  We are still in the information gathering phase and, of course, hope to resolve the matter amicably," the East Baton Rouge Parish government attorney, Lea Anne Batson, said.

A possible lawsuit is no surprise. As contractors have warned of cost overruns related to the structural issues, the city has already hired an outside engineering firm to evaluate what went wrong and how to fix the problem.

City officials have vowed not to accept added costs related to the structural issues.

The contract outlines when the deal could be terminated.  Read the entire contract HERE which shows WHLC Architecture as the lead with assistance from Schwartz/Silver. 

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Follow the publisher of this post on Twitter: @treyschmaltz

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