ND Detention Center Faces Paint Peeling Lawsuit


A six-member committee in charge of overseeing the Burleigh Morton Detention Center in Bismarck, North Dakota, has reportedly sued the facility's builder over persistent problems with peeling paint.

The committee voted last week to file the civil lawsuit against Comstock Construction of Wahpeton, North Dakota; The Sherwin-Williams Company; Venture Architects of Milwaukee; and painting firm Oxentenko Inc., of Bismarck.

Lawsuit Details

According to the Bismarck Tribune, Comstock has served as the project's general contractor, while Sherwin-Williams provided the paint and Oxentenko worked as a subcontractor to apply paint products. Additionally, Venture served as the project architects.

The suit was filed Friday (March 29), stating that the defendants breached their respective contracts, failing to provide proper quality assurance to plans and specifications provided in the project contracts, as well as failing to insure compatibility of products and improperly applying those products.

“This has been identified in all of the housing areas and all of the areas within the detention center,” Major Trent Wangen, the jail assistant administrator, told KFYR.

Wangen added that the paint had been eroding since the facility was built and got worse as inmates were brought in. Some pods have reportedly barely been used, though there are still signs of chipping.

“It’s not limited to one surface type, like the metal surfaces. It’s on the concrete walls, it’s on the drywall. We did identify it on the bunks prior to them being installed,” said Wangen, adding that the cost of repainting the facility isn’t the only issue.

“So we will have to be creative in the future on how to manage that product to make the building whole again and get it repainted properly. But we will have to have some inmate movements to be able to do that."

Sheriff Kelly Leben said it would take over a million dollars to solve the paint problem in the facility, which originally cost about $60 million to construct.

In a response, Sherwin-Williams denied the claims,\ saying some of the issues could be due to cleaning products. The County says that’s not the case and that it did not receive calls back from other contractors regarding the issue.

The allegations come following an inspection from an outside party in June 2019, followed by a November 2019 inspection by representatives and experts from Sherwin-Williams, Oxentenko and the detention center, according to the lawsuit.

Committee members are Burleigh County Commissioners Wayne Munson and Jerry Woodcox, Morton County Commissioners Ron Leingang and Raymond Morrell, Kelly Leben and Morton County Sheriff Kyle Kirchmeier. Morrell, Munson, Leben and Kirchmeier will reportedly serve as a subcommittee to work with Bismarck attorney Lawrence King as litigation proceeds, according to Leben.

The Burleigh County Commission authorized the filing of a lawsuit a year ago, and a notice of intent to sue was sent to Comstock. The notice did not prove effective, and officials had decided that it was "time to turn the heat up," Munson said.

Additionally, after last week’s meeting, Wangen reportedly conducted a tour of the facility's intake area, showing that problem areas were even visible on metal railings and on the walls.

"You could peel it off in sheets," Wangen said about paint on vertical surfaces. "High-touch areas, low-touch areas, it's everywhere—bunks, doors, just all over the place."

Leben added that there have been issues with coatings inside the showers too, as the polyurea coating was just repaired in some showers for the third time since the building's opening.

Additionally, officials believe that repairing the paint issues will be a "logistical nightmare," regardless of the outcome of any lawsuit, as work crews and their tools and materials can't be in the same places as inmates housed in the 550-bed facility.

Additional Issues

Committee members also reportedly decided to redirect funds already budgeted for a new industrial lawnmower as well as other funds from the capital improvement budget toward repairs needed on the facility's cooling tower, as well as to replace some safety glass that is showing cracks.

The cracking could reportedly be from portions of the building settling over the nearly eight years it's been in operation, or possibly from inmate vandalism, according to Leben.

"This is a 24-hour facility; there's a difference in the wear and tear on this place than a regular office," Leben said. 

This difference occasionally leads to maintenance costs that have larger impacts on the detention center's budget and are something Leben said he "often has no control over."

Leben stated that over half of the facility's 2024 maintenance budget has been spent, though the capital improvement budget is largely intact.

Burleigh and Morton counties have reportedly partnered together to contribute $300,000 a year for capital improvements since 2018. The current balance of roughly $2.1 million appears healthy, Leben said, but Wangen expects a future electronics upgrade to the jail's control and lock systems could use a good portion of those funds.

Looking after the entire budget "is nearly a full-time job," Leben added, briefing committee members on several topics including wages, overtime, utilities and even food costs as being areas where budget buffers from previous years no longer exist.

Minutes from the committee meeting can be found here.

Other Peeling Paint Issues

Last year, a famed painting of a dragon in the main hall of the Senso-ji temple in Tokyo partially came off the ceiling over tourists. Painted on traditional “washi” paper, the art was reportedly due for restoration work later that fall to repair deterioration effects.

On July 8 2023, around 11 a.m., the picture of the dragon dangled from the 9.5-meter-high (about 31-feet-high) ceiling of the tourist destination. Reports indicate that the painting did not fall to the floor and no one was injured.

The Asahi Shimbun reported that visitors were temporarily kept out of the area directly beneath the damaged ceiling before the painting was removed. Temple officials said the painting came off due to aging and deterioration of the glue used to bind the washi to the ceiling.

As the painting's colors have faded and it has shown other signs of aging in the 65 years since it was installed, restoration work had been scheduled for fall 2023, The Mainichi reported.

Ryunozu depicts a dragon dancing in the sky which has reportedly become revered as a protector of Kannon, the Buddhist god of mercy, and which relates to the temple's honorific prefix, “Kinryuzan.”

According to reports, the art was created by the master painter Ryushi Kawabata to adorn the hall, which was rebuilt in 1958 after being destroyed in the Great Tokyo Air Raid in 1945 during World War II. It spans 6.4 meters long and 4.9 meters wide.

The temple remained open to worshippers and tourists while the work continued. Other paintings in the temple had been restored about three years before that, temple staff said.

The Seno-ji temple, also known called the Asakusa Kannon, is reportedly the oldest temple in Tokyo. According to the temple’s website, the location draws 30 million tourists each year.


Tagged categories: Coating failure; Coating inspection; Coating Materials; Coating Materials; Coatings; Good Technical Practice; Government; Health and safety; Inspection; Lawsuits; NA; North America; Paint; Paint analysis; Peeling; Program/Project Management; Quality control; Recoating; Safety; Sherwin-Williams

Join the Conversation:

Sign in to our community to add your comments.