Creative Constructors LLC is suing Milwaukee County to recover $114,000 from a project at General Mitchell International Airport.
The Menomonee Falls-based contractor has tried to recover the money since 2005, when Creative completed the yearlong project at the airport, said Michael LaBonte, company CEO. He said the lawsuit, filed Wednesday, is the first time he has sued a project owner since he entered the construction industry in 1972.
“Any time you are talking about a fair amount of money,” LaBonte said, “it affects me. It takes me a lot of work to earn that kind of money.”
Milwaukee County in early 2004 signed a $2.6 million contract with Creative to expand and remodel a security checkpoint in the airport’s Concourse D. According to the lawsuit, the county changed the price of the contract 58 times and extended its schedule 97 days to add $483,852 worth of work.
LaBonte said the multiple price and timing changes stemmed from incorrect project plans. As crews started preparing the building for the renovation, he said, they found mechanical, structural and foundation systems in places where, according to the project plans, they weren’t supposed to be.
Before issuing change orders to the county, Creative ordered subcontractors to add work and change their schedules to adapt to the plan changes, according to the lawsuit. The county accepted the change orders for the project but refused to pay the extra wages Creative’s supervisors earned while doing the extra work.
So Creative’s subcontractors were paid for the work they performed, LaBonte said, but his company is still owed $114,000 in wages.
“They gave me an extension of time because they added so much work,” he said, “but they wouldn’t pay me for supervisors’ time.”
Tim Karaskiewicz, Milwaukee County principal assistant corporation counsel, said he cannot comment on the lawsuit because he has not read it.
Plans to enter mediation over the dispute fell apart two weeks ago after Creative refused to agree to Milwaukee County’s terms of negotiating, according to the lawsuit.
LaBonte said he could not file a lien against the airport because it is a public building. He said he exhausted other options after spending years exchanging information with the county, going through two negotiating sessions and filing formal claims.
The lawsuit, LaBonte said, was the next best option.
“I think they just kept trying to do delay tactics,” he said. “They asked us for more information and more information and more information, and then they sat on it.”