College sues townhouse design firm over faulty heating system

In March of 2005, Geneseo filed litigation against QPK Design, the architectural firm that designed the Saratoga Terraces.

Since its construction in the Fall of 2001, the heating and cooling system installed in the townhouses has been inconsistent and uncontrollable, with temperatures oscillating unpredictably between too hot and too cold. After several failed attempts by QPK to fix the situation, administrators at the College took the firm to court. Six years after the problems arose, they continue to affect some residents of the Saratoga Townhouses who find themselves just as cold inside as out.

Junior Daniel Driffill said that the heating "reminds me of the 'monster' furnace from the movie Home Alone: it will either be 62 degrees on our thermostat or 79, and you either have to use extra blankets at night or wake up sweating." Driffill added, "Our townhouse doesn't bring any heat to the back room on the 3rd floor, while the others are either radically high or low."

Junior Leah Sopchak experienced something similar. Her unit is on the lower level of townhouses, facing the valley. "The bedrooms are in the basement, and the lowest floor of rooms is constantly freezing, while the upper level of bedrooms is unbearably hot, to the point where I've had to leave at night and find other places to sleep," she said.

Dr. Kenneth Levison, vice president of Administration and Finance at the College, recognized the on-going issue and said plans are underway for some correction. "We identified the problem in the first year and tried a number of different adjustments to the heating, ventilation, and air conditioning [HVAC] system," said Levison, but nothing worked. Levison and the State Dormitory Authority - the entity that is the College's agent in construction - eventually found that the ducting was not right: the size of the ducts and size of the furnaces installed were incorrect. There was a stratification of air which prevented proper circulation. "It became clear to us that this was an issue of faulty design, so we have initiated a lawsuit against QPK," Levison said.

According to Roy Doane, assistant vice president of facilities and planning, "we hire expert designers and engineers to come up with a blueprint, and we give that to the contractor. The construction crew followed the blueprint and therefore did what they were supposed to," he said. "Unless you can prove negligence or gross errors on the part of the contractor, it must be a fault of design," Doane said. Numerous telephone calls made to Steve Krause, the architect who headed the design team at QPK, went unreturned.

In the meantime, Facilities Services has done what they can to help residents of the townhouses, offering space heaters to people in the most extreme cases. Saratoga Terrace Residence Director Kevin Hahn said Facilities Services has given 20 to 30 space heaters to different townhouses. "Most of the four-person townhouses now have at least one space heater," Hahn said. "The five-person houses don't have as many problems, for some reason. The space heaters are saved for the most extreme circumstances, but residents do know that we have them if needed."

Currently Levison and the Dormitory Authority are assembling a new bill of particulars, which outlines the damages and estimated costs. Additionally, they have contracted with an engineering firm to design a new HVAC system for Saratoga Terraces using geothermal technology. Levison said he's not sure how long that process is going to take, because it has to go through the attorney general. "It will cost in the neighborhood of $5 million to replace the system that doesn't work and put in a system that will work," Levison said.