Nuns win 'moral victory' over fired contractor Firm ruled liable for building flaws

November 24, 1992|By Edward Gunts | Edward Gunts,Staff Writer

Nuns affiliated with the Mission Helpers of the Sacred Heart have won what they consider a "moral victory" against a contracting firm they hired in 1989 and then fired two years later.

But they say they won't receive nearly enough money from an arbitration ruling to cover the costs of correcting construction defects in a $3.7 million motherhouse off the 1000 block of West Joppa Road.

A three-member board appointed by the American Arbitration Association ruled this month that Kasco-Chesapeake Builders, the discharged contractor, must pay the nuns $931,000 to cover costs they incurred in hiring a second contractor to complete the work.

The decision brings to more than $1.5 million the amount of money awarded to the nuns, since they previously withheld $600,000 in scheduled payments to Kasco and are not required to pay that amount now.

The nuns said they had problems ranging from the floor in the lobby to the air-conditioning equipment on the chapel roof. One of the most conspicuous flaws, they contended, was a "wavy" roof that could be seen from a great distance.

In addition, they argued that construction delays prevented them from moving into their new home in accordance with the original timetable.

The attorney for Kasco-Chesapeake, Charles E. Rosolio of Rosolio, Silverman and Kotz P.A., declined to comment on the arbitration panel's decision or say whether Kasco-Chesapeake might appeal.

"We're very happy with our ruling, but it's not totally going to get us out of our financial problems," said Sister Danielle Murphy, head of the Towson-based religious order. "We have to seek other funds to do that, given the cost of arbitration. We hope somebody will help us."

Sister Danielle said the order incurred costs of more than $2 million to complete the motherhouse, correct flaws and pay for legal fees and other costs associated with the arbitration proceedings.

To pay off a loan they took out to build the motherhouse, the nuns have been cashing in certificates of deposit and liquidating assets, Sister Danielle said.

The sisters are still finding defects in the complex, which they have occupied since March, and don't expect all of the repair work to be finished until next spring, she added. "We continue to have construction work going on all around us," Sister Danielle said.

At the same time, "we do see this as a moral victory," she said. "We're happy that the ruling was in our favor, and they did see the defective work that Kasco did. We're grateful for the prayers that were said for us, all around the country."

The Roman Catholic order was founded in Baltimore in 1890 and moved to Baltimore County in 1923. The order sends missionaries across the United States and to Puerto Rico and Venezuela. Only 30 to 40 of the 130 sisters live in Baltimore County at any given time.

The sisters hired Kasco in October 1989 to build a new motherhouse composed of four buildings: a residence for 42 nuns, a community operations building, a meeting center and a chapel.

The complex was designed to occupy five acres on the eastern end of a 45-acre parcel that the nuns own. The order planned to sell the remaining 40 acres to the developers of a posh retirement community called Blakehurst to help pay for construction of the new motherhouse.

When planning began, the sisters believed the new complex would be a national model for religious orders that want more cost-effective living space and cash from valuable land they no longer need.

Construction originally was supposed to be completed by the fall of 1990 so the nuns could vacate their longtime home to make way for construction of Blakehurst.

But, unhappy with the pace of construction and what they considered deviations from the contract, the nuns terminated Kasco's services on Nov. 1, 1991.

Kasco then sued the nuns for wrongful termination, seeking $600,000, which was the unpaid portion of its $3.7 million contract, and another $900,000 in damages.

The contractor claimed that the project was essentially completed and that it had fulfilled the terms of its contract. The company said the nuns wanted perfection and interfered with the construction, causing delays.

Represented by Read K. McCaffrey and Allen Holt Gwyn of Patton, Boggs & Blow, the Mission Helpers filed a counterclaim, seeking reimbursement for the cost of hiring a second general contractor to complete the work that Kasco started and to repair defects.

The arbitration proceedings lasted from Sept. 14 to Oct. 14. Witnesses included engineers, architects and construction and economic experts.

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