City Sues Contractor Following Library Fire

By Susan Levine
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, August 22, 2007; 6:16 PM

The city is seeking more than $13 million in damages from the Hyattsville contractor that was heading renovation of the Georgetown public library when a fire broke out there in late April.

Officials allege negligence on the part of Dynamic Corp., which was handling exterior improvements at the historic branch. A subcontractor for Dynamic was removing lead-based paint from second-floor windows, and it was workers' use of electric heat guns that District fire investigators concluded had ignited materials near the roofline on the building's south side.

The multimillion-dollar claim, filed with the District's Contract Appeals Board, was announced today by D.C. Attorney General Linda Singer and David Gragan, director of the Office of Contracting and Procurement.

It covers $12 million in damages to the building's structure, nearly $112,000 for fire-damage restoration on books and other parts of the library's regular collection and $4,000 for computers and technology. The cost of repairs to special materials, including the Peabody Collection that documents Georgetown's past through extensive records, is listed as "value not yet determined."

"While the filing of this claim represents a mathematical calculation of the city's loss, the true loss is incalcuable," Gragan said in a statement. The library, at 3260 R St. NW, remains closed.

In the immediate aftermath of the April 30 fire, Dynamic denied any responsibility and said its workers and those with the subcontractor, Two Brothers Contracting, Inc., had been using wire brushes on the windows.

However, according to a letter sent last week by the contracting and procurement office to company president Ebenezer Adewunmi, evidence collected at the scene included numerous heat guns and extension cords. At least two workers for the subcontractor confirmed in witness statements that the electrical devices were being used that day in the area where the fire began, the letter noted.

Investigators found cans containing "extremely flammable" chemicals in that same area.

Dynamic referred calls for comment today to a Pennsylvania law firm. The attorney there handling the case was on vacation and unavailable.

The company has 90 days to contest the claim before the appeals board, according to Melissa Merz, a spokeswoman for the attorney general's office. No damages are being sought from Two Brothers because "the contractor is responsible for the subcontractor," Merz said.

The Georgetown branch's renovation and restoration is expected to cost more than $20 million. A library spokesman said today that a solicitation for design proposals and bids should be issued by early September.

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