University of Iowa Children’s Hospital lawsuit indicates potential ‘life safety’ concerns

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Deficiencies in the University of Iowa Children's Hospital “curtain wall system” at the center of a new lawsuit were observed during construction, left uncorrected, and have become so prevalent that most patient windows — along with many others — pose “life safety issues” if left uncorrected.


“The number and severity of the (insulated glass unit) defects are progressive, with problems continuing to manifest themselves with the passage of time,” according to the lawsuit Iowa’s Board of Regents filed Friday on behalf of UI in Johnson County District Court.


Replacing hundreds of damaged windows is the only path forward.


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“There is no option available to repair (glass units) that have deteriorated,” according to the lawsuit against Iowa City-based Knutson Construction Services Midwest, Inc. and Cupples International, Inc., based in St. Louis.


Since the new $392.7 million UI Stead Family Children’s Hospital opened in 2017, UI has spent more than a million dollars investigating the window deficiencies, implementing temporary fixes, monitoring for more damage, and planning for replacement.


It sought Board of Regents approval last year to spent another $10 to $15 million to deal with a growing number of damaged windows.


Specific proactive and reactive steps the university has taken include installing protective film and clips on hundreds of windows that, “should any (glass units) break, will keep any broken glass safely in the frame.”


“As plaintiff continued to observe defects, it was required to undertake mitigation efforts to protect its patients, guests, employees and the general public from potential life safety issues associated with the defective conditions, specifically the potential for falling glass,” according to the lawsuit.


UI Hospitals and Clinics long ago shuttered its new Children’s Hospital playground for that reason — although officials have made clear they don’t believe a “genuine safety concern” exists with the playground and closed it “out of an abundance of caution.”


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Through the lawsuit, officials want Knutson and Cupples to cover past and ongoing mitigation and preventive costs; the accumulating future expense of replacing defective windows; and court and attorney fees.


‘Failures were observed’​


Last week’s lawsuit was not the first filed in connection with the UI Children’s Hospital. Two contractors years ago — as the project still was being built — sued UI for insufficient and late payments, accusing the university of rampant mismanagement of what was then the biggest hospital project in state history.


The contractors ended up winning in court, forcing UI to pay out tens of millions following lengthy appeals and high-profile accusations of extortion and lies.


An investigation The Gazette published in 2018 revealed the Children’s Hospital project was plagued by thousands of design changes, cost overruns, mismanagement, and delays.


The new lawsuit sheds light on specific deficiencies in the 14-story building’s “curtain wall system” — which used glass and wall panels for its exterior, designed to provide a thermal barrier, resist air and water infiltration, and accommodate deflections, thermal expansion and contraction, and building sway.


Specific window units for the curtain wall were made using bonded panes of glass.


But problems that emerged both during and after construction are “at levels far beyond what would be expected in the industry and are systemic throughout different configurations of the (glass units,” according to the lawsuit.


UI reported blemishes in nearly 40 percent of windows, along with condensation, “which is likely evidence of a poor seal of the assembly or trapping of moisture in the (glass units.)”


“Failures were observed during construction that defendants failed to fully investigate to ensure that no further issues remained,” according to the lawsuit.


Contracts​


The university’s contract price with Cupples was $25.3 million and involved installation of the curtain wall system on floors three through 11 — including patient rooms. Its contract with Knutson reached nearly $10 million and involved window installation on levels one, two, 12 and on a bridge connecting the new Children’s Hospital with the main campus.


Replacement of bridge windows is moving ahead, with plans to initiate work this year.


Windows on patient floors “suffer from significant life safety issues which have been addressed with temporary stabilization measures.”


“Plaintiff’s regular monitoring of the patient windows has revealed that most of those (glass units) now show evidence of delamination,” according to the lawsuit, noting UI is “evaluating replacement options.”


UI officials argue they tried to work with the contractors outside of court.


“Plaintiff has notified defendants of, and demanded payment for, the costs plaintiff has incurred to identify, investigate, and repair the life-safety issues created by the defects,” according to the lawsuit. “Despite demand, defendants have failed and/or refused to repair the defects.”

 

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