Lawsuit alleges faulty engineering in Northwestern Mutual atrium

Novum Structures says it cost $5 million to fix issue with welds

Last updated on July 2nd, 2019 at 10:58 am

Menomonee Falls-based Novum Structures is suing a Minnesota engineering firm claiming its failure to check calculations led to the use of welds that did not meet the load requirements in the glass atrium at the Northwestern Mutual Tower and Commons project.


Novum says in the lawsuit filed last week in the U.S. District Court for Eastern Wisconsin that the error was not discovered until after “significant construction work” on the glass enclosed atrium had been completed. Correcting the problem required re-engineering and extensive reconstruction that delayed the project and cost Novum $5 million, the lawsuit says.

The complaint also says Novum had worked with Minnesota-based Larson Engineering on other projects in the past with Larson serving as the engineer of record and performing engineering calculations to verify the feasibility and structural integrity of Novum’s plans. Larson has two offices in Wisconsin, including one in Wauwatosa.

A representative of Larson was not immediately available for comment.

Larson approved plans for the glass atrium connecting the tower with the South Van Buren Street skywalk in July 2015, the complaint says, adding that Novum and its subcontractors performed the welds specified in the plans.

The complaint says Larson did not dispute that re-engineering and significant reconstruction work would be required to ensure the structural integrity of the atrium after the problem was discovered.

“Those costs and delays would have been avoided altogether had Larson performed the proper engineering calculations and specified adequate welds before stamping (and thereby approving for construction) the construction plans and structural calculations for the project,” the complaint says.

The complaint alleges Larson committed negligence and breach of contract. It seeks damages, including interest and court costs. Boston-based Ironshore Specialty Insurance is also named in the complaint as having issued a professional liability policy to Larson for the project.

The case is the second lawsuit filed in recent weeks over work on the Northwestern Mutual Tower and Commons project.

Earlier this month Indiana-based Ambassador Steel Fabrication alleged that general contractor C.G. Schmidt had not paid more than $2.5 million for reinforcing steel. The complaint said  C.G. Schmidt “claimed to have discovered that two pieces of reinforcing steel provided by ASF were ‘defective’” and proceeded to remove all the bent reinforcing steel the company had provided, despite ASF’s objections.

Northwestern Mutual spokeswoman Betsy Hoylman expressed confidence in the project when asked for comment following a second lawsuit involving work or materials used.

“We have used multiple checks and balances during the construction process to make sure every phase of the Tower & Commons project meets rigorous quality standards. We are excited about our new building, which is set to open on schedule in the fall of 2017,” she said.

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Arthur covers banking and finance and the economy at BizTimes while also leading special projects as an associate editor. He also spent five years covering manufacturing at BizTimes. He previously was managing editor at The Waukesha Freeman. He is a graduate of Carroll University and did graduate coursework at Marquette. A native of southeastern Wisconsin, he is also a nationally certified gymnastics judge and enjoys golf on the weekends.

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