A four-year partnership between the Farmington school district and the architect of its imposing new high school has crumbled into finger-pointing and litigation.

DLR Group said Tuesday that it pleaded with the district for answers before suing for nonpayment of fees last month, while the district cited 25 reasons why it fired the architect last week.

DLR said it took legal action as a "last resort" after attempts to resolve the disputes with the district fell apart. A deal for the firm to take on additional expenses was rejected by district Superintendent Brad Meeks, said DLR managing principal Griff Davenport.

The architecture firm sued the district in Dakota County District Court Nov. 26. The suit alleges that the district owes it more than $640,000 for work on the $100 million high school, which is under construction and slated to open next fall. DLR is also seeking an undetermined amount in expenses that the firm says it incurred because of project delays and disruptions.

District officials say they are preparing a countersuit and have declined extensive comment on DLR's suit, though they issued a statement that called the architect's version of events "flawed and inaccurate."

In a letter to the firm, the district listed failure to perform work well and quickly enough among the reasons it fired the firm. Davenport said the district has told DLR it won't pay because of a dispute over $1.1 million in construction changes -- known as change orders -- that resulted from such things as oversights and building code issues.

DLR staff sat down with the district this fall to go through the orders, Davenport said. The meetings were "productive," and the firm agreed to pay $35,000 to $55,000 for changes that may have been caused by architect mistakes, he said. Then, the district returned abruptly to an earlier position, arguing DLR owed more than $500,000, he said.

"When we go through the exercise in good faith, only to have the exercise ignored, that was a huge frustration for us," Davenport said.

The litigation could make it hard for the district to move students to the new school on schedule, Davenport said, adding that plans to renovate two other schools as part of the transition "are in the middle of design" and need to go out for bid by March to stay on track. Farmington students will start vacation about a week early next summer to give the district more time to move into the new building and do work at the current high school and Middle School East.

The district also told DLR last month that the new high school was nearly $1.5 million over budget, Davenport said.

The district took issue with both claims. "The high school project, along with the school district's various pending remodeling projects, remain on track and on budget, and will not be negatively impacted by either DLR's termination or this litigation," it said.

DLR asked several times to meet with the school board to explain the change orders, but district officials denied the requests, Davenport said. In the past year, DLR -- which designs schools all over the country -- has had little contact with the board, he said. District, rather than DLR, staff members have given construction updates at meetings, and the architect has been kept "out of the loop" about the budget, he said.

The new school hit rough water early, when the district sued the city in 2005 over the site. That battle caused delays that pushed up costs and led to design changes, Davenport said. The project has had four construction managers, two district project managers, two district business managers and two high school principals, he said.

"How do you put a puzzle together if all the pieces keep moving?" Davenport asked.

Sarah Lemagie • 952-882-9016