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City faces claims for damage at St. Mary's Cathedral

The city of Colorado Springs could be on the hook for hundreds of thousands of dollars in damage caused in June when a city utility line burst at St. Mary's Cathedral downtown, filling the basement of the church with water.

Insurers for the Catholic Diocese of Colorado Springs and for a subcontractor, which was working on a major expansion and renovation project at the cathedral, have both filed claims blaming the city for the damage.

Neither the city nor Colorado Springs Utilities will comment on the incident, saying it's still under investigation. However, a utilities employee who was directly involved maintains the accident was caused by contractors at the site.

"We didn't drop the ball," said Joe Montano, a CSU water pipeline inspector. "It was just contractor neglect."

The flood was unleashed early on June 13, several hours after Montano had turned on a new 4-inch water pipeline, which had been installed by contractors as part of the renovation work at the church. The line came apart at a joint just outside the building at about 5 a.m., and water gushed from it for several hours until contractors arrived for work and discovered the leak. The water flowed through a temporary opening in the church wall, used by contractors to access the basement. A city report states the basement was filled with up to 9 inches of water.

There was no structural damage, but the water damaged boilers and electrical and mechanical equipment.

"[It] was a pretty bad flood," said Peg Maloney, a spokeswoman for the diocese.

Maloney said she had no estimate of the damage. A CSU report on the incident, however, states that officials "wouldn't be surprised if the damage est. [sic] wasn't around $400,000."

Janis Balentine, the diocese's project manager for the renovation, said the damage was covered by project insurance and has been almost completely repaired.

The church's insurer, Crawford & Company, won't comment on the flooding incident. However, a claim filed by the insurance company on July 24 blames the city for the mishap, saying Montano turned on the water pipeline without giving the lead contractor a heads-up.

"There was no notification that this was going to occur, as there most certainly should have been," the company states in its claim. "This loss would not have occurred, to the extent that it did, had notification that the water was going to be turned on taken place."

But Montano says he followed standard operating procedures. The line had been tested for bacterial contamination on June 11, with contractors present. When the tests came back negative the next day, the line was "charged," or turned on. That's normal procedure, and it's not common to notify the contractor at that point, Montano says.

According to Montano, the reason the flooding occurred was that a contractor had anchored the pipeline incorrectly, causing it to come apart at a joint.

The claim filed by Crawford & Company does not specify a dollar amount for the damages. Another claim, filed Aug. 22 by the insurance company for subcontractor Heating & Plumbing Engineers Inc., asks for $3,283 in compensation for damage to the subcontractor's power tools.

Darin Campbell, a spokesman for the city, said the city has 90 days to investigate each claim and determine whether the city bears responsibility. The flood investigation is still in the initial stages, Campbell said.

-- Terje Langeland

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