Politics & Government

State moving ahead with WWII Memorial repairs

The state Department of General Administration is moving ahead with repair work on the World War II Memorial, despite the artist's attempts to stop the work.

Simon Kogan of Olympia alleges in a lawsuit that the agency violated the terms of the contract commissioning the artwork in which it was required to follow his recommendations when performing maintenance. He claims crews power-washed the memorial, which is on the Capitol Campus, without his knowledge in 2007 and damaged it.

General Administration representatives said the power-washing did not damage the memorial, pointing out a report by a third-party consultant it hired that concluded the memorial was in “good to very good condition.”

Last week, a Thurston County Superior Court judge rejected Kogan’s request for a restraining order to prevent the agency from doing any further repairs or maintenance.

Other claims are pending. Kogan seeks a court order to enforce his rights to restore the memorial to its original condition. He also is suing for breach of contract.

In addition, Kogan filed a tort claim against General Administration on Sept. 18, the same day he filed the lawsuit, for damage to the memorial. He claimed damages of $150,000.

Steve Valandra, spokesman for General Administration, said risk managers at the state Office of Financial Management are reviewing the claim.

If the agency doesn’t respond, Kogan plans to amend his lawsuit to add a claim that the actions by General Administration violated a federal law that protects artists whose work is changed or damaged in a way that hurts their honor and reputation. The law, known as the Visual Artists Rights Act, exempts conservation efforts unless the modification is caused by gross negligence.

The lawsuit could be moved to federal court if that claim is attached.

The bronze and granite memorial features a cluster of blades and a wheat field to commemorate those who died during World War II. Embedded in the ground are tiles with the names of donors who contributed to the cost of the memorial. The state has received numerous complaints that the words on the donor tiles are illegible.

While the lawsuit is pending, the agency will interview firms this month to design a project to repair the donor tiles at the memorial and install a drainage system to prevent degradation of the new tiles in the future. Valandra said the work is scheduled to begin in March and be completed by the end of the following month. The work will be paid for with money state lawmakers set aside last year.

“We want to take care of what the most visible problems are,” he said. “You can look at the tiles and see they need to be fixed.”

Kogan said he has no doubt his case is solid, despite the judge’s ruling. He said the agency cannot move beyond designing the project without infringing on his protected rights as the artist.

“Like it or not, they can’t touch any part of my memorial, and they will not,” he said.

Most distressing to Kogan are his allegations that the power-washing obliterated the patina that gave color and contract to the “ghosts” of service members on the blades. He said they serve as a medium to bring together the living and war dead.

The agency earlier paid Kogan $30,000 for his estimate of the costs to repair the memorial. He estimated it would cost more than $207,000 to repair the blades and wheat field.

General Administration then paid $5,000 for a second opinion by another consultant, Conservation Solutions Inc.

In addition to finding the memorial in good condition, the conservator determined the extent of restoration proposed by Kogan was not necessary or warranted and his estimates appear to be high.

Kogan has said the conservator’s report is riddled with mistakes and biased in favor of the agency.

Christian Hill: 360-754-5427