Updated at 1:55 p.m. Feb. 14: This article has been updated to include additional comments from Nathan Kowallis, McCarthy Building Companies Inc. senior vice president of operations.

Plano ISD is looking at the possibility of filing a lawsuit against architectural firm Perkins&Will Inc. and construction business McCarthy Building Companies Inc. over design and construction defects in the building and grounds of the district's new Robbie & Lynore Robinson Fine Arts Center.

PISD's board of trustees voted unanimously at a special called meeting Feb. 14 to authorize Superintendent Sara Bonser to proceed—at her discretion—with filing a lawsuit over the stated defects and to enforce the district's contracts with the two companies.

“Our hope continues to be that we will resolve the fine arts center issues without filing suit, but the administration believes that taking this action is in the best interest of the district in case the situation necessitates a legal response,” Bonser said in a Feb. 14 statement.

A planned January grand opening for the $67.5 million fine arts center was postponed in December after the discovery of “significant cracking as a result of poor workmanship and/or design,” according to a district news release.

“Plano ISD students deserve a facility that honors their commitment to the arts, and our goal is to make sure that you, our district and our community, can be proud of our new home for the arts in Plano ISD,” Bonser said in a Dec. 9 statement.

In an email sent to PISD parents on Dec. 9, district officials said evidence of significant cracking in the floors of the fine arts center building "do not meet the aesthetic standards established by Plano ISD." The email states that PISD did not intend to take occupancy of the facility until "this deficiency” is resolved to the district's satisfaction.

Perkins&Will was hired by the district in 2017, the same year McCarthy was named the construction manager at-risk for the fine arts center project. Perkins&Will could not immediately be reached for comment Feb. 14.

Nathan Kowallis, McCarthy senior vice president of operations, said the construction company has been working with the district, the project design team and outside experts "for many months" to find permanent solutions to the issues identified by PISD and revise the project's timeline. He said independent parties brought in to review the issues have found that the problems with the project "are design driven." While McCarthy has proposed solutions to allow the building to meet the original design, according to Kowallis, work has not progressed and the company has not been paid for all the work it has completed.

"As a result, we are now filing suit and pursuing the district based on our investigation, the defective design provided to McCarthy and for failing to pay for approved work, approved change orders and the cost to resolve the design," Kowallis said in a Feb. 14 statement. "To minimize impact on community businesses and in support of the district, we have paid all of our subcontractors that worked on this project, even though McCarthy has not received the payment from Plano ISD. While we are disappointed to take these steps today, ... we remain committed to working with all parties involved to identify a comprehensive solution."

The 82,200-square-foot facility at 1800 Alma Drive was approved as part of PISD’s $481 million bond referendum in 2016. It was originally expected to be built by late 2019, but weather-related issues delayed the start of construction until April of that year. Inclement weather and pandemic-related complications delayed a previously planned opening for earlier this year, Bonser told Community Impact Newspaper in September.

Once it opens, the facility is expected to host hundreds of performance dates each year from PISD’s nearly 23,000 fine arts students in seventh to 12th grades, according to district staff. Events to be hosted at the center would include University Interscholastic League music and theater competitions, concerts, senior high school musicals and shows from outside arts groups, according to staff.

The facility’s venues include the 1,502-seat Main Stage Auditorium, the black box-style Studio Theater, the Dance/Rehearsal Studio, an outdoor Performance Lawn and the Legacy Gallery art showroom.

Kathy Kuddes, PISD director of fine arts, previously said operating costs at the center are expected to be between $400,000-$500,000 per year for the district.