State, contractor in dispute over firing range

Builder of police facility blames state for overruns

state denieS charges

May 25, 2000|By Mike Farabaugh | Mike Farabaugh,SUN STAFF

Problems with the rifle range are not the only ones at Maryland's new $4.6 million police firearms training center in Sykesville, where more fingers have been pointed than shots fired.

The state and the contractor at the center, EnviroServe Inc. of Sykesville, are in a dispute over who is responsible for what EnviroServe claims are $2.4 million in cost overruns, most of them associated with four pistol ranges.

The state's Department of General Services (DGS), which oversaw construction of the firearms training center, says EnviroServe worked too slowly. EnviroServe says it was slowed by poor design and changes before and after construction began.

The dispute is unlikely to be resolved until April, when the Maryland Board of Contract Appeals will hear testimony and settle the dispute.

The state will incur an additional, unexpected cost associated with the center if EnviroServe wins the dispute. The other unexpected cost is associated with containment at the rifle range, where errant shots or ricochets could endanger a police driver-training track nearby and buildings and people within a half-mile at Springfield Hospital Center. Sam Ecker, the contractor's project manager, and several state law enforcement officials say they questioned the design as early as November 1999 to no avail.

The rifle range has been closed while state officials decide what to do. It and the four pistol ranges were to have opened nine months ago. Though the pistol ranges will open for training in two weeks, according to state officials, why they didn't open sooner is a big part of the dispute between EnviroServe and the state.

EnviroServe, the lowest bidder among six Maryland contractors, signed a construction bid Aug. 18, 1998, but Ecker said two months were lost because the DGS did not grant a "notice to proceed" until Nov. 16, 1998, and then ordered changes in grading and site preparation.

EnviroServe contends that more serious problems surfaced when steel trusses would not support the weight of overhead baffles at the pistol ranges, though they had been built to specifications of the DGS. Baffles are steel plates covered in a fabric that absorbs a bullet's impact.

As a result, Ecker said, thousands of pieces of additional steel bracing had to be cut and welded to the trusses, causing a six-month delay in their installation.

EnviroServe also says it had to accelerate its efforts to get back on schedule during spring and summer last year, causing the company to incur extensive extra costs related to hiring additional masons and welders and paying overtime.

According to Dave Humphrey, a spokesman for DGS, bracing for the trusses could have been completed in half the time if sufficient manpower had been employed.

"DGS contends all other delays are the responsibility of EnviroServe," Humphrey said.

Another major problem involves cracking cinder-block walls at the pistol ranges. They support the steel trusses, which expand and contract more than an inch in hot or cold weather. The expansion and contraction pushes and pulls on the walls, causing cracks.

EnviroServe says the design should have called for expansion joints, which would allow the trusses to expand and contract without cracking walls, and that the problem will require continual repairs.

Dave McCormick, a spokesman for the architect, Whitman, Requardt & Associates of Baltimore, said expansion joints could have been used but aren't necessary. Another contractor will make a one-time repair to fix the walls, he said.

Firearms training should begin in earnest within about two weeks, said Leonard A. Sipes Jr., spokesman for the Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services.

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