Science Museum ends legal fight over leaky building

Science Museum of Minnesota
The Science Museum of Minnesota on Tuesday, June 23, 2015 in St. Paul.
Jennifer Simonson | MPR News

The Science Museum of Minnesota conceded defeat Friday in its legal fight with a design firm over persistent and costly water damage to the $100 million building that is one of the state's top tourist attractions.

Interim museum president John Stanoch told The Associated Press that senior leaders decided against an appeal of an April ruling favoring architecture firm AECOM Inc. after determining the museum would have little chance of success.

A Ramsey County judge had dismissed the case, ruling the museum waited too long to sue.

Stanoch said it's time to "turn the chapter away from litigation and move forward."

He said the full focus will be on securing $26 million in state and private money for repairs to the 15-year-old building that overlooks the Mississippi River in downtown St. Paul. The museum will present a $13 million request to next year's Legislature and hopes to raise the rest internally. Stanoch said there are no plans to raise admission fees toward the fix.

Water intrusion problems have affected the 370,000-square foot building since shortly after it opened. Some repairs were done under warranty. But crews didn't uncover the extent of the damage -- moisture behind walls and around the encasing of the giant Omnitheater -- until a third-party engineering review was done in 2012.

Officials have stressed that the problems don't pose safety risks to the museum's staff or its 1 million annual visitors.

The lawsuit against Delaware-based AECOM, which had acquired original design firm Ellerbe Becket, dates to 2013. AECOM declined comment through a company spokesman.

The museum also sued a masonry company and the project's general contractor, which reached a confidential agreement to resolve claims.

Stanoch said an initial $3.8 million in work will begin next year using money the museum will pull together on its own. Because many of the repairs involve the building's exterior, museum officials expect the work to cause minimal disruptions.

"The goal of the first phase as well as the goal of the entire repair project will be to keep the Science Museum open to our visitors," he said.