- Associated Press - Friday, April 8, 2016

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) - A contractor that supervised the recent $52 million upgrade of North Dakota’s official museum on the Capitol grounds is suing the state for breach of contract.

Wahpeton-based Comstock Construction Inc. alleges in court documents that the State Historical Society owes it nearly $1.5 million in damages and unpaid bills for its work on the North Dakota Heritage Center. The company has requested a jury trial.

The State Historical Board on Friday voted to retain Serkland Law Firm in Fargo to defend the state against the company’s lawsuit.

The revamped Heritage Center opened in 2014 after two years of construction. State lawmakers in 2009 approved about $40 million for the 97,000-square-foot expansion, which nearly doubled the size of the facility. The Historical Society raised an additional $12 million from private sources to complete the construction of the facility that features everything from dinosaur fossils to antique farm machinery to an experimental Mars spacesuit. Gov. Jack Dalrymple and others have dubbed it the “Smithsonian on the prairie.”

Historical Society Director Claudia Berg said the agency has withheld payment to the company because the company still has not finished some work, including repairs to cracked concrete surrounding the facility and damages to its new parking lot.



“The punch list hasn’t been completed,” Berg told The Associated Press.

Comstock attorney Aaron Dean of Minneapolis did not return telephone calls to the AP on Thursday and Friday.

Dean also is representing Comstock on a similar breach-of-contract lawsuit the company filed against the state over the $28.5 million construction of the state Veterans Home in Lisbon. The lawsuit, filed in 2013, is ongoing and is seeking damages “in excess of $50,000.”

The Serkland Law Firm also is handling that case for the state. The firm has been paid more than $24,000 to date, Kristin Lunneborg, the facility’s chief financial officer.

Assistant Attorney General Edward Erickson recommended to the historical board that it hire the Fargo firm due to its “expertise in construction litigation.” He said state lawyers don’t specialize in that “particular area of law.”

Erickson told the historical board that the state has strong documentation that the company did not complete work on the Heritage Center as outlined in the construction contract.

“We didn’t make this up. It’s in the contract that they signed. If they complete the work, they’re entitled to that money.” Erickson said. “I believe we have a very good defense to their claims.”

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