The scope of a project to renovate and stop water leaks in downtown's Hopkins Plaza must be expanded because of unforeseen problems, city officials say, pushing back the completion deadline by nearly two years and driving up costs by an expected $2.2 million.
Contractors have discovered that areas outside the original limits of the project are allowing water to leak into an underground garage -- weakening support beams to the point that an engineer will certify their safety for only two years.
"When you demolish something that's 30 or 40 years old, there are problems that no one anticipates," said Joe Trapani, area manager for Facchina Construction Co. Inc, the La Plata-based contractor.
The company began work on the $6.9 million project in January of last year and expected to finish it in a year.
Ringing the plaza are several Baltimore landmarks: the Mechanic Theatre, the Fallon Federal Building and the Mercantile Bank & Trust Building.
City officials want the contractor to tear down the steps and promenade in front of the Fallon building as well as the handicapped ramp because of water leaks.
Two weeks ago, the Board of Estimates approved spending up to $250,000 for the project's architects -- Hord Coplan Macht Inc. -- to design the necessary repairs. The cost of repairs will be about $2 million, and work is expected to be finished next fall, city records show.
People who work in the plaza say they are weary of the construction, and restaurants complain of reduced business. Visitors to the plaza must navigate a series of ramps and chain-link fences to get from place to place.
Weeds and construction material fill the plaza. A fountain in the middle sits dry.
"It doesn't feel like it is ever going to get done," said Roger Wills, an employee with the Department of Veterans Affairs in the federal building.
Jeb Brownstein, owner of Hopkins Plaza Deli, said business has dropped off since construction work started. There are five entry points to the plaza, he said, and at any given time, as many as three have been closed.
"It's definitely hurt the traffic through the door," Brownstein said. "People come here for a quick lunch. ... If they have to make major detours, they are going to go somewhere else to eat."
Russ Robertson, project manager for the architectural firm handling the renovation, said problems surfaced soon after the plaza was demolished. Years of pooling rainwater had done more damage than predicted. Drains were clogged, forcing his firm to redesign the piping underneath the plaza.
Initially, the plan was to renovate the plaza one section at a time to limit the disturbance of activity there. Instead, the contractor demolished large swaths of the plaza while waiting for plans to reconfigure the drains.
"If he didn't move around, he would have just been doing nothing," Robertson said.
City officials said the project -- as originally conceived -- is 90 percent complete but that the contractor can't issue a waterproof warranty if parts are leaking.
"The whole promenade area [of the federal building] acts as a bathtub that is slowly leaking," Trapani said.