More than a decade after it was conceived and six years after completion, the overhaul of uptown Kingston’s Pike Plan canopy remains mired in litigation. But the designers of the ill-starred restoration project are no longer liable, after a judge ruled that the city had missed a filing deadline by a month.
The lawsuit involves the Pike Plan, named for architect John Pike who designed the system of covered sidewalks on Wall and North Front Streets in the mid-1970s. By the mid-2000s, the canopies and pillars were rotting and had become an expensive burden on property owners with parcels abutting the porticos who are charged for maintenance and repair of the structure. Beginning in 2006, city officials, with help from then-congressman Maurice Hinchey began assembling a package of state and federal funds to redesign and refurbish the porticos. The city hired engineering firm the RBA Group to carry out the design starting in 2008. Actual construction took place in 2011 using Peekskill-based contractor Fourmen Construction. Newburgh-based Lochner Engineering was hired to supervise construction and ensure the project was carried out in accordance with RBA’s design and specifications.
According to a lawsuit filed by then-mayor Shayne Gallo on Dec. 30, 2015 — his second-to-last day in office — all three entities contributed to a shoddy project that has been plagued by defects since its completion. In fact, the suit alleges, problems were evident in 2011 even as construction was under way. Issues identified in the lawsuit included safety hazards, leaky skylights, cracked concrete, rust and poor drainage that allowed water to leak into the canopy’s roof causing damage to the structure and adjacent properties. After the city complained about the problems, Fourmen and Lochner returned in the summer of 2012 to try to fix them; it was not until August 2013 that the city officially closed out the project.
Since then, Uptown business owners have continued to complain about drainage and other problems with the canopies. The lawsuit, which current Mayor Steve Noble has continued to press, seeks $1.5 million in damages.
But the city’s case suffered a setback in January when state Supreme Court Judge Richard Mott ruled that RBA Group could not be held liable in the case because the lawsuit was filed one month after a three-year statute of limitations for negligence claims expired. Attorneys for RBA argued that their involvement with the project ended when the city issued a document certifying the project “substantially complete” in 2011. Their contract with the city, meanwhile expired in November 2012. The city argued that by continuing to consult on the remediation effort, RBA remained involved in the project until the official closeout in August 2013; city attorneys made the same argument regarding Lochner and Fourmen Construction.
In his January decision, Mott approved RBA’s motion to dismiss the case while ruling that the suit against Lochner could proceed. Kingston Corporation Counsel Kevin Bryant said Fourmen Construction had failed to respond to the lawsuit, but remained a party to the proceedings. Mayor Steve Noble said that it was unclear whether the construction company is still in business.
With the lawsuit headed for the discovery phase where both sides will exchange evidence in preparation for a trial or settlement talks, the city last month undertook “destructive testing” of the canopies. The tests, carried out by consultant C.T. Male, involved removing boards to expose and document water infiltration, rotting wood and possible mold.
“There are a lot of problems going on inside there and we have to document all of them,” said Noble.