WSU drawn into Oregon contractor's lawsuit

Controversy centers on new WSUV science building

By Jacques Von Lunen, Columbian staff writer

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Washington State University is one of four defendants in a suit over an alleged breach of contract.

An Oregon company, Hydrokinetic Systems, filed the lawsuit in Clark County Superior Court in late May. It centers on payment for work performed during the construction of WSUV's new Engineering and Computer Science Building. The original invoice for the work totaled nearly $20,000, but Hydrokinetic also asked to be compensated for damages and legal fees in the complaint.

Civil suits do not ask for specific amounts. Those are determined by the court if it sides with the plaintiff.

The new WSUV building opened in January. Construction on it started in fall 2009, with Portland-based Hoffmann Construction Company as its general contractor, according to information on WSU's capital projects website.

Here's what happened then, according to the lawsuit filed by Hydrokinetic:

Hoffmann hired an Oregon company called Hydro-Temp Mechanical to install wastewater treatment systems in the $38.5 million building, which houses classrooms and laboratories. Hydro-Temp in turn hired Hydrokinetics to provide an acid-neutralization system. The two contractors in March 2010 signed a contract that Hydrokinetics would sell a system of pumps, tanks and controls to Hydro-Temp for nearly $50,000.

That contract allegedly included a section specifying that the system would only be delivered to the job site, not installed. Hydrokinetics delivered the system on time, but Hydro-Temp had fallen behind on its other projects and asked Hydrokinetics to perform the installation as well.

By September 2011, Hydrokinetics finished the installation and delivered separate invoices to Hydro-Temp for this labor, which it alleges was outside of the scope of the original agreement for the purchase of the system.

Hydro-Temp refused to pay these invoices, claiming that the system should have been assembled and installed when first delivered. Hydrokinetics in the complaint reiterated that the original contract explicitly stated that it was not obligated to install the system.

Hydrokinetics hired an attorney — Seattle construction lawyer Douglas Reiser — and repeatedly tried to resolve the matter outside of court.

By late January of this year, the subcontractor filed a claim against the bond held by WSU for the construction project.

On May 21, Reiser filed the suit on behalf of Hydrokinetics, naming four defendants: Hydro-Temp Mechanical, WSU, Travelers Casualty & Surety Company, which issued the contractor's bond to Hydro-Temp, and the Federal Insurance Company, which issued the public construction bond for the science building.

A WSU spokesman said Friday afternoon that the university was not aware of the lawsuit. A summons was filed against WSU on May 21, according to court records.

Messages left with both contractors were not returned.

Jacques Von Lunen: 360-735-4515; http://twitter.com/col_schools;jacques.vonlunen@columbian.com.