March 2016


Architect hit over basketball court

By John Reynolds and Kate Tilley, KT Journalism

A national architectural firm has been ordered to pay a Queensland school more than $500,000 to cover an error it made in designing a basketball court.

Qld District Court Judge Nicholas Samios found Thomson Adsett Pty Ltd negligent and in breach of its duty of care when it failed to follow the school’s instruction to build a full-sized indoor basketball court.

Christian Education Ministries – Qld Ltd (CEM) sued Thomson Adsett for the cost of fixing the indoor court when it discovered during construction the ceiling was too low. CEM CEO David Fyfe told the court he had contracted Thomson Adsett in mid-2009 to build a “hall where children could play indoor basketball or volleyball” at Caboolture’s Australian Christian College Moreton.

There was no discussion about court size during the first meeting, but Mr Fyfe said he later advised senior architect Don Marshall the court should meet national standards, which included a minimum 7m ceiling height.

Mr Fyfe gave evidence he “would never have agreed to having a building with inadequate height to play basketball”.

When Mr Fyfe visited during construction in late 2010, he noticed the ceiling was only 5m from the ground at the hoops. Mr Fyfe said the plans had to be redesigned and the building altered at an additional cost of $536,287. Mr Marshall gave evidence he was told by then-principal Stephen Woodward the court would not be required for formal games or competition and ceiling height was less important than the school’s budget.

Mr Marshall said he believed his hand-written note about a “full-sized basketball court” on the plans referred only to the length and breadth of the playing area, not the ceiling height. But Judge Samios said Mr Marshall should have taken instructions from Mr Fyfe, not Mr Woodward, who was only an intermediary between CEM and the architect.

Mr Fyfe had asked for a full-sized court after Mr Marshall’s discussion with Mr Woodward about the ceiling, so those instructions should have taken precedence over anything the principal said. If there was confusion, a “competent architect” would have sought clarification, Judge Samios said.

He was concerned few formal instructional notes had been taken by Thomson Adsett staff during the design process. “That suggests Mr Marshall was not exhibiting much care in recording the school’s instruction,” Judge Samios said.

He said the architecture firm had no satisfactory explanation why the notation “full-sized basket ball court” was on the drawings so there must have been discussions about the height as well as the width and breadth of the court.

Judge Samios said Mr Fyfe had made it very clear the school wanted a full-sized basketball court. Not providing one] was “a breach of the contract of retainer and a breach of duty of care”. Judge Samios rejected Thomson Adsett’s argument the school was at least partially responsible for the error because of inadequate instructions.

“The school gave the architect an express instruction, which was not followed,” he said. “There is no basis for a claim the school was guilty of contributory negligence.”

He ordered Thomson Adsett to pay adjustment costs of $366,262 plus $138,738 in interest.

(Christian Education Ministries – Qld Ltd v Thomson Adsett Pty Ltd [2015] QDC 292, 26/11/15)

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