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West Seneca ponders further action over Burchfield building

Rotting wood is causing the walls of West Seneca's Charles E. Burchfield Nature & Art Center building to slowly collapse, according town officials, who blame the engineering and design firms.

But a state Supreme Court justice has dismissed the town's lawsuit against three firms involved in the design of the 17-year-old building. The town is still deciding what to do.

The Burchfield building was closed in January 2017 after hardware started popping off the windows.

A forensic architect hired by the town said the problem started with the construction plans for the building, which is named for the famed watercolorist Charles E. Burchfield, who did much of his work in the Gardenville section of town.

The bottom of the wood frame walls sits not on the concrete slab floor, but below ground on the foundation wall, according to the forensic architect, Kenneth W. Pearl.  The ground was intended to be about 2 feet below the building, yet another detail of the plans shows the floor was supposed to be the same level as the ground.

"These conditions are just the initial symptoms of what will become worse conditions over time," Pearl said in his report. He estimated the cost of repairs at $993,000, and a new building could cost up to $1.77 million.

The town knew the statute of limitations for negligence and breach of contract had passed, but was hoping the problems could be addressed through provisions to hold design professionals accountable for alleged defects. The town sued Nussbaumer & Clarke, Louis Design Solutions Architecture and Kideney Architects.

Town Attorney John Fenz said the town "respectfully" disagrees with Justice Joseph R. Glownia's decision to dismiss the legal action because the statute of limitations had expired.

"The town firmly believes it is correct on the law and is exploring its options in pursuing an appeal," he said in a statement. "The taxpayers should not be held financially accountable for the negligence of third parties. The town will continue to explore its available legal remedies to recover from the responsible parties.”

The town had put in a claim to its insurance company, which was denied before it filed the lawsuit.

When the hardware started snapping off the windows, the town closed the 5,500-square-foot building and relocated the finance, human resources and the town attorney's office to other locations. The adjacent park has remained open since the problem was discovered, and the classroom area of the building was reopened in May.

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