A Pennsylvania county government is suing the contractors that designed and built its jail more than 40 years ago, alleging work was never completed because a bond beam shown on plans was never placed. Officials say the construction oversight hastened deterioration and added millions of dollars to the cost of a recent renovation.

The Clearfield County Jail was designed and built around 1981, according to the lawsuit filed in state court. The contracts have been lost, but county officials believe the firm L. Robert Kimball and Associates was hired to provide architectural and engineering services for the jail project, and that Kimball was also responsible for retaining contractors and supervising construction. Altoona, Pa.-based Leonard S. Fiore Inc. was the general contractor on the project, and Everett, Pa.-based Showalter Masonry Inc. also provided services, according to the suit.

Despite the lost contracts, Clearfield County Commissioner Chair John Sobel says officials were able to determine the companies involved with the project through a mix of records and information from employees who worked for the county in the 1970s and 1980s.

The single-story building features 12-in.-thick masonry perimeter walls. Steel beams support a metal deck roof with a 7-ft parapet. Construction documents prepared by Kimball around 1977 show a grout-filled concrete block bond beam with horizontal steel reinforcing should have been placed below the roof deck around the perimeter of the building to attach the roof deck to the walls and provide lateral stability. 

A bond beam is a horizontal structural element, usually found as an embedded part of a masonry wall assembly. The block, which contains horizontal reinforcement, braces a wall where it may not otherwise be braced by a floor or roof structure. 

“The masonry walls and roof deck, which make up the lateral load resisting system of the building, were not positively connected to the walls as required by the design drawings,” the suit states. “As such, the construction of the jail was never completed.”

The lawsuit accuses the contractors of negligence, fraudulent misrepresentation and breach of contract. 

Kansas City, Mo.-based TranSystems Corp. acquired Kimball in 2021. Neither TranSystems, which is named in the suit as Kimball’s successor, nor Fiore immediately responded to inquiries about the case. A phone number listed for Showalter Masonry was no longer in service and ENR could not reach the company for comment, though state business records indicate its registration remains active.

The missing bond beam was discovered by contractor ABM Building Solutions LLC, which the county hired in 2021 for a $9.4-million renovation of the jail. ABM had planned to attach new decking to the bond beam, but instead found a void and learned the roof was floating on top of the building, according to the suit.

An engineer recommended removing the parapet to below the roof deck and placing a bond beam. The new roof decking is extended over the bond beam and attached to it with anchor bolts.

The lawsuit says the unforeseen work cost the county an additional $3.9 million to complete the jail renovation project. The suit also alleges the unconnected roof caused leaks and premature plumbing deterioration inside the building.

“But for the lack of bond beam, the cost would have been less,” Sobel says. “So hopefully we’re going to be able to at least recoup some money back for the taxpayers.”