The National World War II Museum in New Orleans has nearly completed installation of the last major component of its massive Bollinger Canopy of Peace structure while simultaneously pushing ahead with two separate construction lawsuits related to the privately owned facility’s $400-million expansion. One suit is against the insurer of the $14-million canopy structure's fabricator; the other involves the engineer of a $66.5-million convention hotel completed in late 2019.
Installation of fabric panels on the Canopy of Peace is set to take place in June, a museum spokesman said, with full completion and dedication later in 2021. Light fixtures on the canopy pedestals and surrounding pavilions have been installed. As construction progresses on the Liberation Pavilion, the final planned exhibit space in the expansion, and the museum parade grounds, crews will connect permanent power to the fixtures and add more lighting to the pavilion roof.
At 150-ft-tall, the 825-ton steel and fiberglass canopy structure is designed to be a city landmark, especially at night. The lead architect is Voorsanger Mathes LLC, a joint venture of Voorsanger Architects of New York City and New Orleans-based Mathes Brierre Architects. Thornton Tomasetti of New York City is structural engineer on the project, which broke ground in March 2018.
The structure’s steel assembly, complete since May 2020, is at the center of an ongoing lawsuit filed by National WWII Museum Inc. in September 2019 in Orleans Civil District Court against its bond insurer, Talisman Casualty Insurance Co. LLC. The suit seeks to enforce the insurer’s obligations to cover performance of San Diego-based contractor Gava Steel Inc., which the museum hired to manufacture the canopy structure. The museum seeks nearly $3 million in damages, plus fees.
The suit claims Gava defaulted on its contract, resulting in delays, and that the fabricator did not pay subcontractors and performed work that was “defective, deficient and did not conform with the contract documents.” Gava provided the WWII Museum with misleading information that resulted in it paying the firm “sums that were well above the stipulated contract price,” the plaintiff alleges.
“We intend to prove Talisman obligated itself to make sure Gava fulfilled all of its obligations to fabricate and deliver the steel truss canopy and that Talisman agreed to reimburse the museum for any loss due to Gava’s failure to do so," museum attorney Shannon Holtzman told ENR. "Gava did not fulfill its obligations, and Talisman is therefore liable for the museum’s losses.”
To repair and complete Gava’s work, the museum paid multiple third-party companies, including Bosworth Steel Erectors of Dallas, Chet Morrison Contractors of Harvey, La., and Forge Fabrication Services of Belle Chasse, La.
Attorneys for Talisman Casualty could not be reached for comment.
Progress on the lawsuit has been slow due to the pandemic and procedural issues, with the most recent action involving a federal court decision in February 2020 to deny Talisman’s request to have the case moved to a U.S. district court in New Orleans. The parties in the suit are still in the process of producing documents as of late May, Holtzman says.
Hotel Suit Delayed
Meanwhile, a judge has pushed back a federal jury trial until November for a separate lawsuit the museum’s nonprofit arm, World War II Theatre Inc., filed in April 2019 alleging structural design errors in the Higgins Hotel and Conference Center. The trial, previously set to begin April 6, was pushed back to Nov. 1-12 in the New Orleans U.S. district court due to pandemic-related scheduling backups. The court had rescheduled the suit from August 2021.
The hotel opened in late 2019 after taking remediation steps to mitigate design issues cited in the suit.
The lawsuit names DeSimone Consulting Engineering Group as a defendant, along with William O’Donnell, a partner and managing principal in Miami office who is a licensed engineer in Louisiana and was the firm's representative on the project. In the suit, the plaintiff claims DeSimone was “grossly negligent” in designing the project, and that errors resulted in more than $1 million in damages related to repair costs and delays.
The lawsuit claims some of the steel beams DeSimone designed were undersized and insufficient to bear the loads of the eight-story building.
Representatives of both the museum and its general contractor, Palmisano LLC, have said they identified and fully remedied all errors during construction, and that the safety and structural integrity has been fully restored.
A DeSimone representative could not be reached for comment.
Although it’s common for disputes to arise in construction matters, it’s not typical for the museum to have two lawsuits pending simultaneously.
“I would say it’s a different situation for the museum because, in the past, the museum has been able to amicably resolve any construction project disputes without litigation,” says Holtzman, who is representing the museum’s interests in both suits. “The DeSimone dispute is particularly frustrating because [it] concedes fault and, before litigation, represented that it would make everything right. Nonetheless, DeSimone has made the owner carry the financial burden of DeSimone’s errors.”
Both the Higgins Hotel and the Bollinger Canopy of Peace are part of the $400 million expansion under way at the museum.
Meanwhile, work is ongoing on the $50 million, three-level Liberation Pavilion, focusing on end-of-war and postwar experiences.
Museum officials say approximately 85% of pavilion structural steel has been fabricated, and half of the steel structure has been assembled; they project substantial completion of the structure by the end of June 2022. The project contractor is MAPP LLC, and the lead architect is Voorsanger Mathes LLC.
Officials say the pavilion is on track for a phased opening, with first-floor exhibits to open in fall 2022, and second and third floors in early 2023.