State settles suit on design of Shore prison ECI architects to pay $2.2 million for flaws


State officials have reached an out-of-court settlement in their $6.4 million lawsuit against the designers of the Eastern Correctional Institution, a 4-year-old Eastern Shore prison that has been a constant source of headaches.

The settlement, which closes the books on a 1989 civil action in which the state sought to recover losses blamed on design defects at the medium-security prison, guarantees the state a little more than $2.2 million from two architectural firms, Dewberry & Davis and Phillips Swager Associates, officials said.

The state attorney general's office advised state officials to accept, noting that a court action could take years and probably would result in a similar judgment, according to officials at the Department of General Services.

The lawsuit contended that flaws in the plans for the Princess Anne prison, which houses more than 2,400 inmates, increased construction costs. General Services officials alleged that the architects made nearly 300 errors or omissions in designing the $105 million prison.

The Somerset County prison has had electrical difficulties that affected its security system and defects in its power plant. Two months ago, the state Board of Public Works agreed to spend almost $8 million to correct problems in its water and sewer systems.

The prison increased water use in the area so much that local wells were running dry, and Princess Anne had problems processing the prison's refuse-clogged wastewater. George Perdikakis, director of the Maryland Environmental Service, told the board the prison sewer system caused difficulties for the city treatment plant because it was so poorly designed.

Under the agreement approved this week by the Board of Public Works, the architectural firms will pay $3 million to cover losses the state suffered because of the design errors.

The two firms, which filed suit in 1988 seeking to recover $1.6 million from the state that they said they were owed, will receive $787,500 under the settlement.

State officials said they settled for a little more than a third of the $6.4 million they originally sought because state lawyers determined that the cost of the improvements to the prison could not be legally charged to the architects. Regardless of the difficulties encountered because of the design, General Services officials said, the state cannot legally seek additional work and material at no cost.

Instead, the money to be paid by the architects over a three-year period represents money actually lost by the state because of design errors.

At the same time, state officials acknowledge that an additional $1 million or so -- the exact amount depends on the outcome of unrelated court actions -- also will be paid by the state to two contractors who performed work on the prison but later claimed that payments for their services were delayed.

As a result, the total due the state in the settlement will fall to about $1.2 million. Still, given the legal limits of the architects' liability, state officials say they are satisfied.

"This is an excellent settlement," said Martin W. Walsh Jr., secretary of general services. "It's a fair and equitable settlement that meets all of the state's interests."

The Eastern Shore prison was perhaps the largest project of its kind to be "fast-tracked" by state officials, who sought to build it in as short a time as possible to alleviate projected crowding in the state prison system that nonetheless remains crowded.

A class-action lawsuit filed by inmates at the prison in 1988 alleged that the prison lacked adequate heating, ventilation and hot water for showers.

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