ASU Dorm Developers Claim Builders Installed Defective Pipes

Published: Thursday, January 5, 2017 - 5:00am
Updated: Friday, January 6, 2017 - 2:33pm
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(Photo by Mariana Dale - KJZZ)
Evidence of repairs at Barrett Honors College's Juniper Hall two weeks after flooding forced the building to be evacuated.

ASU undergraduates are returning to their dorms for the start of the semester on Jan. 9.

At Barrett, The Honors College, it will be with memories of a burst water pipe flooding Juniper Hall last semester.

This isn’t the first time plumbing problems have left students soggy. The private developer who created and now manages Barrett is suing the builders, alleging that defective pipes were installed.

American Campus Communities, through a limited-liability corporation called ACC OP (ASU BHC), filed suit against the dorm’s builders on Feb. 22, 2016.

The complaint reads, in part:

“Plaintiff has experienced numerous leaks, failures and deficiencies in the pipes in the domestic and chilled water systems.”

The defendants are builder Hardison/Downey/Kitchell; architecture firm DWL Architects + Planners; and pipe distributor Ferguson Enterprises Inc. KJZZ reached out to all the parties in the lawsuit and ASU. None would comment on the pending litigation.

At the time the complaint was filed, American Campus Communities claimed $3 million in damages from the leaking pipes and asked the defendants to pay that plus the cost of additional repairs.

Flood and fire alarms

ASU freshman Megan Taylor was in her dorm room on Nov. 15 when she heard rushing water. She thought maybe it was someone showering on the floor above.

“Then the fire alarms started going off, so I just stepped outside and I see this wave of water coming around the corner,” Taylor said. 

A hot-water pipe on the fifth floor of Juniper Hall had broken, and students were being evacuated from the building.

An advisory from ASU cautioned people to “avoid the area of Barrett Dorms until further notice.”

One student tweeted, “I’ve never related to the movie Titanic on such a personal level.”

Students were given the option to stay with friends or family, or in hotels paid for by American Campus Communities.

ASU officials referred KJZZ questions to American Campus Communities, but students were told in an e-mail that ASU University Housing staff were working on the “logistics for Juniper Hall restoration.”

Barrett freshman Kendall Rees said it was an inconvenience to stay at a hotel while the dorms dried out.

“I missed a ton of really important classes and then had exams," Rees said, saying her performance on the exams may have suffered as a result.

Students were offered professional laundry services and could file claims for damaged property to American Campus Communities. The dorms reopened Nov. 23.

“From an engineering perspective, I don’t see why a very new building would have pipes that would burst in the first place,” Rees said.

'So many pieces'

The Barrett Honors College complex welcomed its first class of students in August 2009.

The Arizona Republic reported American Campus Communities footed most of the bill for the $130 million project. ASU chipped in $3.8 million.

The plumbing and HVAC materials, and the expense to install them, were likely a significant portion of the project's cost.

Carl Triphahn is the executive director of the Piping Industry, Progress & Education Trust Fund (PIPE), a long-standing plumbing apprenticeship program in Phoenix. He said labor and installation of these systems can be 20 to 30 percent of the cost of a project.

Skilled tradesmen must weld, braze and solder thousands of pipes and fittings made of various materials.

“There’s so many pieces. That’s why it’s easy to have a mistake. Nobody’s perfect,” Triphahn said. “If somebody doesn’t know what they’re doing, it can create bigger issues for you.”

KJZZ reviewed more than 4,000 maintenance complaints filed at Barrett Honors College in the last year and a half provided by ASU. Earlier records were not made available.

More than 60 mention water leaks of some kind, including from the ceiling and several incidents where water rose up from the floor, soaking the carpet of students’ rooms.

Without more information from ASU or American Campus Communities, it’s impossible to determine whether these problems stem from normal wear and tear or inherent defects in the plumbing.

American Campus Communities demands in the lawsuit that Hardison/Downey/Kitchell pay for all repairs and indemnify the company for previous damages related to the plumbing.

The lawsuit states Barrett Honors College experienced a “significant amount of water leaks.”

The developer claims investigation and testing place the blame on “defective electric resistance weld seams.” Electric resistance welding is one technique used to make pipes.

The original complaint named Hardison/Downey/Kitchell, a joint venture between Hardison Downey Construction and Kitchell Contractors, and DWL Architects + Planners. The pipe distributor, Ferguson Enterprises Inc., was also included as a third-party defendant. The plumbing and HVAC contractors could also be at fault.

Parties in the lawsuit will continue to gather evidence to support their arguments. The lawsuit is likely to stretch into 2019.

In the meantime, the original complaint stated that pipes at Barrett were still leaking, continuing to damage the residence halls.

EDITOR'S NOTE: This story has been modified to clarify the name of the company PIPE, and to correct Ferguson Enterprises Inc.'s business type.

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