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Legal disputes stall MBA Building completion

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Financial woes, construction delays and litigious finger pointing have led to the new Math, Business and Allied Health Building not opening as scheduled for fall semester.

Tom Brown, director of facilities and planning services for EC, said a combination of several different factors contributed to the delays.

“The coordination of the trades is the greatest delay,” Brown said.

Coordination of trades, or subcontractors, is the job of Taisei Construction, the firm that won the bid to complete the project.

Brown said that because Taisei has not done a good job of coordinating their subcontractors, there have  been “delays” and “additional charges” with subcontractors having to come back a second or third time to complete their work.

Jaysen Van, operations risk manager for Taisei Construction, has a different opinion.

“I believe it is directly related to the defective plans and specifications, as well as the district’s failure to properly administer the project,” Van said.

Van said the original plans and specifications failed to identify existing underground utilities on the job site, and this added to the construction delays.

“The district’s architect failed to meet a standard of care,” Van said.

Brown said that to place the blame solely on the defective drawings would be a “great error,” but he did acknowledge that because of conflicts with the drawings, the district could be heading into arbitration with LPA, the architectural firm that planned the project.

“A lot of this is a lot of finger pointing,” Brown said.

“It would not be a surprise to me if the contractor plans to blame the architect for some of the problems, just like I’m sure the architect plans to blame the contractor for some of the problems, and just like the college feels there is plenty of blame to go around.” Jo Ann Higdon, vice president of administrative services for EC, said.

Brown said that among the problems waiting to be resolved in the construction project are elevators that have not been certified by the state, an air-conditioning system that has neither been commissioned nor turned on, corridor lighting and flooring that needs to be installed, stairway handrails that need to be put in place, and painting yet to be completed.

Brown added that the painting has been delayed in part due to the painters recently walking off the job.

Van said that this is due to the subcontractors, including the painters, going bankrupt on the job.

Brown blamed the subcontractor bankruptcy issue on both Taisei and their subcontractors underbidding the job, and said that Taisei “definitely underbid.”

Van disagreed.

“Taisei was plus or minus two  percent from the next lowest bidder, and plus or minus ten percent from all bidders. This is a provable fact,” Van said.

School administrators originally expected a bid of around $23 million, while Taisai’s winnig bid was $20.6 million, according to a March 2010 board of trustees meeting agenda.

Van added that the district realized a nearly $18 million windfall at the inception of this project, and instead of keeping those funds in reserve, reallocated them to other projects.

“I have no idea what he is talking about,” Higdon said. “I find it amazing that someone would say that.”

“How I reallocate funds after a bid is the college’s business; it is not the contractor’s business,” Higdon added.

Higdon said that the bond does allow for funds to be reallocated after a bid.

“Did the college benefit from a downturn in the construction industry? Absolutely. We had bids come in significantly lower than what we had originally expected. The taxpayers are getting a great buy,” Higdon said.

Van said that Taisei has taken a $6.5 million loss on the project.

“We do plan to pursue a claim against the district,” Van said.

“The college is absolutely determined that the building that is going to be built is going to be the building that we planned to have, and it is going to service our students and our faculty in the way it was intended, and frankly, if that means that the opening is going to be delayed a little, that is what is going to happen,” Higdon said.

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Legal disputes stall MBA Building completion