Dispute builds over project

Officials, contractor at odds on Police Department expansion

May 18, 2007|By Susan Gvozdas | Susan Gvozdas,Special to the Sun

A dispute between Annapolis officials and a contractor renovating and expanding the Police Department could be heading for legal action.

A week after officials halted work on the $8.8 million project, consultants hired by the city are ripping out portions of the ceiling and walls in search of incomplete or faulty construction, while the contractor insists that the city is nitpicking and behind on payments.

Jim Chase, project manager for J.G. Garcete Co. Inc. of Hyattsville, predicted that the two sides will end up in court.

"We feel we've been treated very unfairly," he said Wednesday, "The communication is so bad. Dysfunctional is the way to describe it."

Robert O. Schuetz, acting director of central services, said the city hopes to resolve the dispute without a lawsuit.

Garcete has spent two years building a three-story addition at the Annapolis Police Department station on 199 Taylor Ave. The company also gutted and renovated the existing structure and built a two-level parking garage. The project was supposed to be finished a year ago.

Chase blames the delay on the city for making at least $1 million in change orders. He said city officials are asking for things not in the original contract and refusing to work with the company on other issues.

The city also stopped paying for those changes several months ago and owes about $150,000, he said.

"We're small, so we can't afford to fund them," Chase said.

But the city is unsatisfied that a third-party design firm, Architectural Support Group of Jessup, has found more than 200 deficiencies in the past few weeks. Among the problems cited were inconsistencies between the plans and the actual work.

Schuetz said the city hasn't paid for unfinished work and that construction cannot resume until the consultants finish their inspection within the next few weeks.

Police operations have not been hindered by construction, but officers are anxious to move to the renovated police station, said Officer Kevin Freeman, a department spokesman.

The department moved into the new three-story addition about a year ago, so renovations could start on the old building.

Although the department has not been involved in the dispute between Garcete and the city, police have wondered about such shortcomings as mislabeled offices - there's no room 220, as specified in the drawings - and missing safety valves, which are needed to prevent scalding water from pouring out of faucets.

"We've paid millions of dollars for this building and those are the type of problems it should not have," Freeman said.

Chase, who started working on the project last fall, said the wrong office numbers and the valves amount to minor "punch-out" items that can be resolved quickly.

He acknowledged that the company has made mistakes but said it has fixed them.

For example, drainage pipes were installed improperly and a sidewalk on the east side of the building had to be redone.

Workers made changes along the way, he said. The architect verbally agreed to nearly all the changes, Chase said.

Schuetz, who took over the project for the city a couple months after Chase signed on, said substantial changes should have been made in writing.

The architect has refused to sign off on the project, he said, because so many major changes have been made from their original plan.

"If they made changes without documenting them, they were doing so at their own risk," Schuetz said.

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