Contractor sues Colorado Springs over Pikes Peak summit project

Mar. 17—The contractor that built the 38,000-square-foot Pikes Peak Summit Complex more than 14,000 feet atop America's Mountain is suing the city of Colorado Springs for breach of contract.

GE Johnson Construction Company Inc. filed the lawsuit in El Paso County district court March 8, claiming the city has not paid for work its crews carried out under contract to build the state-of-the-art visitor center after "compensable delays outside of (GE Johnson's) responsibility or control prevented" the company from completing the project on time.

A contract between GE Johnson and the city states the contractor is entitled to financial compensation for "increased expenses" caused by project delays GE Johnson is not responsible for.

Crews broke ground on the project around Aug. 3, 2018, the suit claims, with a scheduled completion date of Oct. 30, 2020. But delays GE Johnson said were the fault of the city and that resulted from the COVID-19 pandemic pushed the completion date back nearly eight months, to June 23, 2021.

After approved change orders, GE Johnson claims the cost of the project is $60,040,888 and that the city "has wrongfully withheld payment of (GE Johnson's) final two payment applications that properly requested the remaining contract amount." It was unclear Friday how much of that approximately $60 million the city has paid to GE Johnson.

The company is suing the city to recover damages, fees "and other losses to which it is entitled," court documents state.

"The new Pikes Peak Summit Complex was a complicated construction project, and the city is very appreciative of GE Johnson's willingness to undertake the work. As is often the case in complex construction projects, there remain a few issues that prevent the city and GE Johnson from closing out the contract at this time," Mayor John Suthers said in a brief statement emailed Friday afternoon. "One such issue of concern for the city is the wastewater system for the visitor center. We have been in conversations with GE Johnson to resolve pending issues, and we remain hopeful that we will be successful in our negotiation efforts."

Suthers did not provide further detail regarding the city's concerns about the wastewater system and did not comment specifically on the project delays nor outstanding construction costs.

"Despite having invested considerable time and effort, GE Johnson and the city of Colorado Springs have thus far been unable to resolve certain disputes that arose on the project," GE Johnson spokeswoman Laura Rinker said Friday. We remain committed to seeking a fair resolution to those disputes, but cannot offer further comment on pending litigation."

The project's timeline stalled almost immediately, according to the lawsuit. First, the "delayed execution" of an agreement between the city and the U.S. Forest Service to allow the work on the summit complex to get underway pushed the construction schedule back at least nine weeks, the contractor states, constituting "a compensable delay under the contract."

As the city and GE Johnson agreed that crews would work between May 31 and Sept. 30, when work conditions on the mountain were "reliable and productive," the initial nine-week delay cut the already shortened "build season" down from about 120 days to around 56 days, "making it virtually impossible for (GE Johnson) to finish the work it originally anticipated completing during the 2018 calendar year and before winter conditions set in," the lawsuit states.

Crews attempted to work through the winter season in 2018-2019, according to court documents, but weather conditions at the top of the mountain made construction difficult and presented safety hazards. GE Johnson "incurred significant additional costs for which (Colorado Springs) is now required to pay" because of the delay, the lawsuit states.

GE Johnson alleges the delay to finalize the agreement between the city and forest service caused other setbacks in blasting, foundation and excavation work performed as part of the project. Crews also discovered in July 2019 they would need to do additional work to properly flatten the ground surface at the top of Pikes Peak where the new complex would be built.

GE Johnson and the city agreed this was "extra work as a result of unforeseen site conditions" entitling the contractor to "an increase in the contract sum for its direct material, labor and equipment costs," the lawsuit states.

The onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020 further delayed the project. Though work continued, GE Johnson saw a "10% loss in labor productivity," the company claims in the lawsuit.

The new Pikes Peak Summit Complex opened in June 2021. Made up of hurricane wind-tested glass and steel, the new facility is more than three times the size of the former summit house and includes a "grand staircase" with views of Mount Rosa and the sprawling Arkansas River Valley. It also boasts interactive displays, a museum, interpretive signage and an extensive walkway around the summit.

The lawsuit showcases a rare dispute between the city and one of the largest general contractors in the state and Rocky Mountain region, which has worked hand-in-hand with Springs officials as it's built some of the area's highest-profile public and private projects since it was founded more than a half-century ago. GE Johnson's portfolio of hundreds of millions of dollars worth of projects includes hospitals, government buildings, elementary schools, university buildings, offices, apartments, hotels, sports facilities and tourist attractions.

Among its many Colorado Springs projects just in recent years: downtown's U.S Olympic & Paralympic Museum and Weidner Field multipurpose stadium; Ent Credit Union's north-side headquarters; the gutting and renovation of The Broadmoor hotel's Broadmoor West guest building; the 110-bed Children's Hospital Colorado; the 72-bed St. Francis-Interquest hospital scheduled to open July 11; and a 375-room hotel that's expected to debut next year as part of the Air Force Academy's new visitors center.

The company also has spearheaded or partnered on numerous projects outside Colorado Springs, including in Pueblo, the state's ski resort towns, California, Kansas and Wyoming.

GE Johnson was founded by company namesake Gilbert E. Johnson in 1967; he died in 2000. Johnson's son, Jim, took over the company three years before his father's death.