Photo of military plane in a hangar with Problem Projects label on right side

Watterson Construction Co. has filed suit against International Door, Inc. for nearly $1 million, citing defects at the Eielson Air Force Base construction project near Fairbanks, Alaska. Alleged problems include fabric and welding work, as well as delays in negotiating reportedly defective hanger doors.

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In October 2017, negotiations began with International Door to build 32 hangar doors in a facility made to house 54 F-35 fighter planes. The US Army Corp of Engineers didn’t approve the project until June 2020, and negotiations over warranty between the general contractor (Watterson) and International Door continued into 2021.

International Door entered into a subcontractor agreement with Watterson to design, supply, manufacture, and install the vertical lifting fabric hangar doors. In order to properly maintain the temperature to house so many F-35s, Watterson sought work that could protect the $78 million-a-piece planes from the -40 degree temperatures common in the winter months. 

According to court documents, problems with International Door started from the beginning of the agreement. While negotiations concluded shortly after October 2017, the first door wasn’t assembled and installed until February 2019. 

International Door also operated as a shadow entity known as “AID.” This entity was never mentioned in the negotiations, but International Door allegedly sent employees and made purchases under this entity. This reportedly caused confusion at Watterson over who they were doing business with. 

As the parts for the first hangar door arrived in January and February 2019, an associate of AID was sent to Eielson AFB to supervise the construction of the door, after parts for four doors were delivered separately and several weeks apart. However, this associate didn’t identify himself as an employee of AID, and he spent most of his time in his vehicle due to the extreme low temperatures, according to court documents. 

Over the first few months of the project, there were defects reported in the paint, the welding, and the fabric lining of the doors. Because of the F-35’s need for temperature limitations, as well as various performance requirements, Watterson needed to address each of these factors so that the project would be later approved by the Corp of Engineers. 

Watterson found first that the painting was flaking off because of improper application of paint primer. They then discovered defective drum welds on up to six of the doors that caused at least one door to slip and fall 8–10 feet during operation. These two problems alone caused considerable loss of time and damages due to having to ship the doors back and forth to Anchorage, Alaska for repairs. 

One particularly painful part of the job was addressing the fabric lining on the hanger doors, which were folding up and stopping the doors from shutting properly. When Watterson confronted International Door about this problem, Watterson claims that International Door blamed the fabric problems on their supplier, Heytex, and allegedly insinuated that they should “go after” Heytex together.

International Door later allegedly refused to help fix the fabric lining on the various hanger doors, which caused further delays. By this point, it was March 2020, and the project had still not been submitted for approval to the Army Corp of Engineers. The cost to replace and repair the fabric on the doors comprises most of the damages sought as this total alone comes to nearly $600,000.

Any general contractor caught in a similar position can take several steps to protect themselves from incurring such damages, including requiring daily reports on the job.

“No one will outright admit that they are performing poorly. Good project oversight should be able to identify problems quickly, through regular site assessments and daily reports,” says construction attorney Alex Benarroche. “The important thing is to stay proactive and keep an eye out for any indications that a sub is running into problems.”

Alex Benarroche
Alex Benarroche
9 years experience
283 articles
859 answers

There was also substantial confusion over which entities Watterson was dealing with on the project. Regularly requiring preliminary notices notices can help identify who exactly the GC is working with, as well as help avoid future payment problems.

“While a preliminary notice can be a prerequisite for preserving a company’s lien rights on a project, this is not necessarily the core purpose or function of the notice document,” said construction attorney Nate Budde. “In fact, preliminary notices were originally developed for the benefit of property owners and upper-tier participants in order to provide visibility into the project and bring some of the potentially hidden project participants to light.”

Nate Budde
Nate Budde
16 years experience
264 articles
576 answers