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City to get $21 million in settlement for faulty O’Hare terminal facade

Planes tarmac O'Hare Airport. File Pho| Al Podgorski~Chicago Sun-Times

Planes on the tarmac at O'Hare Airport. File Photo | Al Podgorski~Chicago Sun-Times

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Updated: April 9, 2013 11:50AM

Chicago taxpayers will get $21 million to settle years of litigation stemming from faulty design and construction of a terminal facade project at O’Hare Airport that was supposed to provide more interior space and shield air travelers from the elements.

Walsh Construction, one of Chicago’s most prominent and clout-heavy firms, will cover $10 million of the settlement. That’s in addition to the $26 million in repairs the company has made to remedy defective steel and welds integral to the project that enlarged Terminals 2 and 3.

Murphy/Jahn, the firm that includes legendary Chicago architect and O’Hare project designer Helmut Jahn, will pay $1.9 million.

Walsh and Jahn could not be reached for comment on the settlement. Jahn also designed the futuristic United Airlines terminal and the Thompson Center in the Loop.

Corporation Counsel Stephen Patton said the rest of the money will come from five other firms he refused to identify in amounts ranging from $780,000 to $4.5 million.

The $21 million settlement will make the city whole for cost incurred in discovering the problems. It marks a rare and well-timed reversal for Chicago taxpayers, who have shelled out tens of millions of dollars in recent months to settle police misconduct cases.

“A key priority of the Emanuel administration is to diligently administer and enforce city contracts to ensure the city gets what it bargained for. This is an example of that,” Patton said.

“No vendor is exempt. The same rules apply whether you are large or small. This priority includes two key elements. Ensure that contracts are fully performed, and to the extent they are not or the city incurs expenses in enforcing the contract, the city is made whole.”

Patton noted that air travelers were never in danger. Until last year, giant support columns were put in place to make certain of it until the repairs were made.

“The problems were discovered in sufficient time that protective steps were taken to shore up the structure while the problems were fixed,” he said.

“I don’t know that there were visible cracks. But, the fact that structures were being supported by these big, ugly supports was very visible” to air travelers.

In 2001, then-Mayor Richard M. Daley’s administration announced plans for a $300 million facade project that would enlarge Terminals 2 and 3 and eliminate the need for passengers dropped off at O’Hare to brave the elements when they hop out of the car.

Patterned after a German design by Jahn, the project called for the concrete canopy over the sidewalk in front of the departures roadway to be replaced by a translucent canopy composed of steel skin and glass skylights.

The new canopy extended out 42 feet — enough to cover the sidewalk and 2½ lanes of traffic.

The $21 million settlement is not the first time that Walsh has been embroiled in a construction dispute with the city.

More than a decade ago, the Chicago Sun-Times reported that Walsh had been ordered to redo portions of the Jardine Water Filtration Plant roofing job after an alarming number of cracks were discovered in concrete panels after the job was 25 percent complete.

At the time, a Water Management briefing paper argued that the majority of roof panels in dispute were “not merely cracked, but fractured” and that the defect “threatened the long-term integrity of the roof panels.”

The concrete mix used by Walsh simply was not strong enough to withstand air and water conditions inside the plant, the city contended.

After a yearlong battle, then-Mayor Richard M. Daley agreed to resolve the dispute by paying Walsh $1.5 million.

City Hall had initially demanded that Walsh eat the cost of replacing the panels with substitutes made from a stronger mix. Walsh had countered by submitting $4.5 million worth of change-order requests.

The settlement allowed the two sides to avoid a protracted court battle that could have further delayed a $16 million, 448,000-square-foot roofing job that, consultants warned, was needed more than five years earlier.

Walsh is the contractor with two generations of ties to the Daley family that was hired in July 2000 to replace the fired general contractor of Millennium Park after cost overruns. The company was a prolific contractor during Daley’s 22-year reign to the tune of nearly $1 billion.

The last in a gravy train of airport contracts — to build a $50.3 million rental car campus at Midway Airport — was awarded just days before Daley left office.

Company Chairman Matthew Walsh’s father grew up with Daley’s father, the late Mayor Richard J. Daley. Before the Hired Truck scandal prompted Richard M. Daley to swear off campaign contributions from city contractors, the Walsh family was one of the younger Daley’s most reliable campaign contributors.

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