Design errors cause delays, raise cost of UM arts center Project could end up $15 million over budget

November 11, 1998|By Michael Dresser | Michael Dresser,SUN STAFF

Construction of the $107 million Center for Performing Arts at the University of Maryland, College Park is running a year behind schedule and could end up more than $15 million over budget because of an architectural firm's blunders, a university official said yesterday.

Charles F. Sturtz, vice president for administrative affairs, told the Board of Public Works that the university has agreed to spend almost $2 million on a "SWAT team" from an outside business in an effort to get the high-profile project back on track.

The university's handling of the construction project prompted a public rebuke from Gov. Parris N. Glendening, who chairs the public works board.

"I'm really disappointed in the whole process of how this has been managed," said Glendening, who has been an advocate for the project since he was Prince George's county executive.

The governor ordered General Services Secretary Eugene R. Lynch to investigate the project and report to the board on who was responsible for errors.

The chaotic state of the project, which has been in the works for more than six years, means the university will not be able to meet its goal of opening the center in the fall of next year, Sturtz said.

He said the contractor estimates that it will take until fall 2000 to complete the building but that a new project manager will attempt to get it back on track for a spring 2000 opening.

Sturtz laid most of the blame on the architectural firm Moore Rubell Yudell of Santa Monica, Calif.

He said the firm, chosen in 1994 after an international design competition, could not meet its deadlines for crucial design elements and left the job no more than 90 percent complete when it was replaced as lead architect a year ago.

Reached by telephone, an employee of Moore Rubell said Sturtz's account was "quite unfair" but that the partner authorized to speak for the firm could not be reached.

Sturtz told the board that flaws in the firm's design included attaching a service corridor with a 7-foot ceiling to a theater with a 12-foot ceiling -- making it impossible to transport tall elements of a theatrical set between the loading dock and the stage area.

Altogether, Sturtz said, contractors had found "several thousand design flaws" -- three to four times the number typical for a project the size of the 295,000-square-foot center.

He said the contractor on the project, Turner Construction Co., has submitted $1.8 million in claims for excess costs caused by design-related problems. Turner has warned the state that it is projecting additional cost overruns of $12.8 million if the problems can't be resolved.

Yesterday, the board approved the university's request that it ratify a $1.9 million contract with Parsons Infrastructure & Technology Group of Hanover to take over management of the project. Sturtz said the firm is known for its expertise in trouble-shooting projects with severe problems.

In February 1994, Moore Rubell was chosen for the architecture contract, estimated by Sturtz at $8 million, after an international design competition in which 197 firms submitted letters of intent.

Pub Date: 11/11/98

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