In the latest twist in a long controversy, an Indiana circuit court jury on April 15 cleared structural engineer Thornton-Tomasetti Inc., New York City, of fraud charges brought by the Indianapolis-Marion County Public Library, related to the troubled renovation and expansion of the city’s central library.

Library’s structural engineer was sued by project owner.
Photo: Indianapolis-Marion County Public Library
Library’s structural engineer was sued by project owner.

The library project originally was budgeted at $103 million but was completed two years late, in December 2007, and as much as $50 million over budget. Other project contractors previously settled with the library for a total of $21.5 million, including its construction manager, a joint venture of Turner Construction Co., Trotter Construction Co. Inc. and Shiel Sexton Co. Inc. But the jury declined to award the library $24.5 million from Thornton-Tomasetti after a five-week trial. It also awarded the firm $712,000 sought in a countersuit. “In 30 years of practicing engineering, including forensic engineering, I’ve never heard a case like that,” says firm CEO Daniel Cuoco.

The library says it “continued to seek legal redress because we believed in the validity of our claim that there were issues with Thornton-Tomasetti’s work.” In 2003, cracks were observed in columns and beams supporting a new two-story underground garage, which also served as a foundation for the six-story expansion. Library officials claimed that Thornton-Tomasetti contributed to the problem by adding rebar to the gararge and misrepresented its rationale for the change.

Cuoco contends that honeycombing had formed—possibly due in part to a lack of vibration of concrete—after forms were stripped in the post-tensioned garage. He says the firm recommended adding rebar to correct the problem. “I wouldn’t say it was a unique situation for a concrete project,” Cuoco says. The project was halted in March 2004 but eventually was completed by Smoot Construction Co., Columbus, Ohio.

Mike Coghlan, capital projects manager for the library, would not speculate on why the other contractors agreed to settle, and executives of those firms could not be reached. Coghlan says the library’s board of directors met in executive committee on April 16 to discuss whether to pursue further legal remedies but did not announce any future step.