Police station impasse looms

City, contractor hint at lawsuits to settle repairs

October 24, 2007|By Justin Fenton | Justin Fenton,Sun reporter

With the construction and renovation of the Annapolis police headquarters more than a year and a half behind schedule and riddled with flaws, city officials say they are seeking at least $5 million in corrective work from the project contractor, who said a lawsuit appears inevitable.

The city kicked Hyattsville-based contractor J.G. Garcete Co. off the job in August, three months after issuing a stop-work order. Since August, officials have unsuccessfully tried to negotiate a settlement over millions of dollars in corrective work.

The project originally was to cost $10 million. The acting director of central services estimates that the city needs $5 million to correct problems, not including labor costs. A project manager for Garcete said yesterday that the city has asked for more than $7 million.

Garcete has claimed in a petition for judicial review filed last month that the city violated the contract first by having a third party oversee the project. The company calls the move "arbitrary, capricious and irrational," and claims that the city failed to provide the contractor with an opportunity to fix problems stemming from what it said was a flawed design.

An Aug. 10 letter from the city to Garcete differs with that, documenting multiple meetings and correspondence that show the two sides tried to work through the problems after the stop-work order was issued. The city said it removed Garcete from the project as a last-ditch effort after it became clear that the two sides couldn't work together.

That letter, sent on the city letterhead, is signed by G. Douglas Masengale, an employee of a third-party contractor who identifies himself only as an "owner's representative." Garcete claims that Masengale took over the project for the city after the retirement of a city employee and was not authorized under the city charter to terminate the contract.

Robert O. Schuetz, the city's acting director of central services, said the city was within its rights to appoint a representative not employed by the city as long as he worked under the supervision of the director of public works. Meanwhile, Schuetz said, officials continue to find flaws in the building and costs to correct the work have risen.

Schuetz said of the work on the building, "In a word? Horrible."

Jim Chase, a project manager for Garcete, said the city has been difficult to work with and that his company expects to be hit with a lawsuit.

"We're willing to go to arbitration, but they refuse to do so," Chase said. "We made mistakes, but we didn't make all the mistakes. That [negotiation] process broke down some time ago, and we've been swimming against a strong current."

The Taylor Avenue construction project was supposed to be finished in March 2006. It involved the construction of a three-story addition, a new parking garage, a two-story emergency operations building and a renovation of the existing building, doubling its size to 47,000 square feet.

City officials said this year that they had found more than 100 problems throughout the site. They found water running from jail cells into the outdoor parking lot, structural problems with stairways and walls that weren't fireproofed.

There has been no work done on the building since August, other than emergency safety repairs and a continued diagnosis of structural problems.

Workers punched holes in a brick wall and installed steel bars to keep it from coming off the building, Schuetz said. During a recent power outage, police officers found that the emergency generator wasn't wired to provide temporary power to the correct part of the building.

In that instance, the Police Department sent dispatchers to the county's emergency operations center in Millersville for fear of interruptions in communications, said Kevin Freeman, an agency spokesman. Services continued uninterrupted .

Chase said many of the problems stem from a poor project plan. For example, he said, plumbers did not install temperature valves in cell and restroom faucets because that was not included in the plans. An inspector says that when he discovered the problem, the city went directly to a subcontractor, circumventing Garcete.

"We'd like to go in and finish the job," Chase said. "There's no way in the world a contractor can make things happen if the owner digs in their feet and makes sure it's not going to happen."

The Police Department due soon for accreditation, a process that includes a review of its facilities. Freeman said the department does not think its accreditation is in danger because of the condition of the building.

In the meantime, the city continues to explore its options.

"We're working diligently to make sure that first, the police building is safe and operable to the extent that it is currently occupied," Schuetz said. "The secondary goal is to finish the project, and third is that all accounts are settled.

"The city needs to pursue things in whatever manner is appropriate to force a settlement or intervention from a third party to push us to a reasonable conclusion. I'm not going to say we're going to file or not file a lawsuit, but we're going to do what we need to do."

justin.fenton@baltsun.com

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