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'Reckless' work by JE Dunn, Gould Evans forced UMKC students from housing, suit says

Oak Place Apartments at University of Missouri-Kansas City has been shut down because of leaks and sagging floors that left it uninhabitable. Now the University of Missouri Board of Curators is suing companies that designed, developed and constructed the building.
Oak Place Apartments at University of Missouri-Kansas City has been shut down because of leaks and sagging floors that left it uninhabitable. Now the University of Missouri Board of Curators is suing companies that designed, developed and constructed the building.

University of Missouri curators are suing Gould Evans Associates, JE Dunn Construction and other companies, claiming they were "reckless" in the way they designed and constructed housing for University of Missouri-Kansas City students.

The 70-page lawsuit alleges that 34 companies committed "gross negligence" in the development of the Oak Place Apartments, 5050 Oak St. in Kansas City. The lawsuit accuses the companies of ignoring problems that led to leaking, pipe failures, mold issues, sagging floors and other problems.

Oak Place, which opened in 2008, consists of a north and a south wing separated by a shared parking garage.

As a result of the problems, 252 UMKC students earlier this school year were forced to vacate their dorms, according to the lawsuit filed last week in the Jackson County Circuit Court.

The companies named in the suit include: Place Properties L.P., Place Collegiate Development LLC, BGR Consulting Engineers Inc., Kruger Technologies Inc., Bob D. Campbell and Co., FSC Inc., Niles Bolton Associates Inc., Wolf Construction Co., All State Mechanical Inc., Advanced Plastering Systems Inc., Hankins Services Inc. and Jayhawk Fire Sprinkler Co.

"Defendants' conduct was reckless, in part, because it knew that issues related to the failures identified above were known risks in design, construction, engineering, and/or installation with respect to the buildings," the suit alleges.

Repairs at one point were estimated at $10 million, according to the University News, UMKC's student newspaper.

Gould Evans of Kansas City provided architectural work on the project, and JE Dunn of Kansas City served as the general contractor. Gould Evans failed to properly design the buildings, while JE Dunn failed to correct defective work and to ensure the buildings met "codes and/or contract specifications," the suit alleges.

Emily Gallagher, a spokeswoman for JE Dunn, said the company is continuing to work with the university and its consultants "to understand the cause of the problems in the building."

Megan Krtek, a spokeswoman with Gould Evans, said the company "believes it performed its services appropriately on this project. We look forward to working with the University to understand the issues recently identified."

Place Properties, an Atlanta firm, did not return a request for comment.

Gould Evans, JE Dunn and other companies also allegedly breached their contracts with the university.

Gould Evans settled a similar lawsuit in 2016 for $300,000 with Northwest Missouri State University, which was first reported by Missouri Lawyers Weekly. The university sued the company, claiming water leaks and mold problems at two residence halls designed by the company.

In 2010, Place Collegiate settled a lawsuit with Kennesaw State University Foundation in Georgia, which had sued the development company because alleged construction defects allowed water infiltration into a dormitory built in 2004. According to court documents, flooding left the dorm "completely uninhabitable."

The principal architect at Niles Bolton Associates, Daniel Meacham, told The Star that his company had not seen the UMKC lawsuit. He said he was aware it concerned "leaks that happened," but his company "didn't know anything about" them.

Meacham said Bolton's involvement occurred more than a decade ago and involved only preliminary design work.

The lawsuit said the University of Missouri seeks an award for an amount "to be proven at trial," plus attorney fees "and any other relief this court deems just and proper under the circumstances."

The Oak Place student residence hall opened on the UMKC campus after construction crews demolished the dilapidated Twin Oaks apartments, which had stood on the site nearly 60 years.

Oak Place includes one-, two- and four-bedroom apartments and initially opened to about 500 UMKC students.

It was built by a private developer, which leased the land through a public/private deal the university entered into when Guy Bailey was serving as UMKC chancellor. Bailey made increasing on-campus housing a priority during his tenure and negotiated Oak Place as an innovative arrangement with the developer. UMKC purchased the building in 2012 for $40.8 million.

Oak Place now is empty, and all students have been relocated to other campus housing or have terminated their housing contracts with UMKC.

UMKC officials said the extent of the building damage is still being evaluated.

"We are still working with our insurance carriers to determine how much of these costs are going to be covered," said John Martellaro, university spokesman.

He said the university was not certain whether the building will be repaired or torn down but said it's expected to remain closed "a minimum of two years."

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