With the completion of Palo Alto's Mitchell Park Library and Community Center more than a year past due and the project's cost on an upswing, frustrated city officials have issued an ultimatum to its construction company: Get your act together now or you'll be replaced.
At close to $30 million, the project is by far the largest and most expensive component of the $76 million bond city voters approved in 2008. The library and the adjoining community center were supposed to be completed last year but have fallen woefully behind schedule. According to the latest estimate from the Public Works Department, the project is now about 82 percent finished and is expected to be completed at the end of this year.
Palo Alto has already prepared itself for a legal battle against Flintco Pacific, the construction company working on the project, by retaining seven different consultants, including attorneys and engineers who will be tasked with evaluating what went wrong. And last week, the city notified Flintco that the company has until May 16 to submit its plans for fixing "defective work" and commencing work in areas where progress has been "unacceptably slow."
The letter from City Manager James Keene to Flincto CEO Tom Maxwell describes a construction process that has devolved into a comedy of errors, with work crews quitting or failing to show up on the job on a "regular basis." On a typical day, the letter states, the number of workers on the site falls "considerably short of what would be expected" and on days when crews are present, the company is not "adequately coordinating or supervising trades." Furthermore, much of the work has been defective, failing inspections from the Building Department and not complying with contract requirements.
"The schedules provided by Flintco show slippage each month," the letter states. "Recently, the slippage has been so extensive that the schedule now indicates we are no closer to completion than we have been for many months. In fact, Flintco has actually lengthened the schedule due to completed work that must be torn out and re-done."
The company now estimates that the project will be done in late November.
Keene's May 2 letter informs Flintco that if the company does not provide its plans for fixing the various problems by May 16, the city will likely issue a "default notice" to Flinto's surety, whom the city had informed in January of the various construction complications.
This could lead to Flintco getting sacked and replaced with another company that would finish the job. According to Keene's letter, the city had asked the surety to intervene and help resolve the problems on numerous occasions but has had no luck. Hopes that the company's sale last year to Alberici Corporation would spark change were also quickly dashed.
"The reorganized senior management does not appear to have taken any significant steps to address the City's concerns," Keene's letter states. "The City has attempted to motivate Flintco to complete the job by regular partnering meetings, field-team motivators and even financial incentives. Nothing has worked."
City Attorney Molly Stump told the Weekly if Flintco doesn't meet the city's conditions in the next two weeks, it will be up to the surety to either bring Flintco into compliance or bring in another company to finish the job at the agreed-upon price. The surety in this case is the Zurich American Insurance Company.
"Historically, sureties tend to try to get the contractor who is already on site motivated and compliant," Stump said. "We wouldn't be surprised if that's what happens."
The city, she said, has a right to "have the performance bond guarantee us completion of the work at contracted price."
While seeking a response from Flintco, the city has also reached out to another contractor to fix Flintco's errors should Flintco fail to do so. According to a report issued last month, Palo Alto has established a contract with Big D Builders, which has recently completed the remodeling of the Palo Alto Arts Center, to "correct errors and finish work when Flintco Pacific fails to do so."
The 56,000-square-foot library and community center is Palo Alto's largest municipal construction project in four decades. Once completed, the library will be the largest of the city's five branches. The two-building community center will include a large community room, a teen center, a cafe, a computer room and a game room.