The construction of Mitchell Park Library and Community Center has fallen behind by more than a year, prompting Palo Alto officials to prepare for a legal battle against the contractors handling the major project.
The new library, which is by far the largest component of the $76 million bond voters passed in 2008, is now slated to be completed in May 2013, more than a year later than the April 2012 deadline in the city's agreement with its general contractor, Flintco. City officials attributed the delay to the inability of Flintco and its subcontractors to waterproof the building and install the windows on time.
Though the project remains well within budget, the time delay peeved the City Council, which heard a status update on the construction Monday night, June 4. Council members have been particularly frustrated by the high number of change orders Flintco had submitted in recent months -- requests that have added $1.7 million to the project's cost, according to a new report from the Public Works Department.
The time delay has added another level of frustration. City Manager James Keene emphasized Monday that there have been "significant delays in the project and the city has been displeased with the contractor's performance to date." To deal with the problem, the city has retained outside legal counsel. The City Council is scheduled to hold a closed session with attorneys later this month to consider possible legal action. Keene suggested that sorting out who is at fault for all the delays would be a process that will stretch beyond the construction of the new library. He said he expects it will be resolved in mediation or arbitration.
Keene and Phil Bobel, assistant director of Public Works, both said that while they don't fully trust the contractor's estimate for the new completion date, the city would do everything it could to make sure the $41 million project is completed as soon as possible. Bobel attributed the latest delay to the inability of a subcontractor, Fast Glass, to get the windows installed on time and to Flintco's failures to enforce the deadlines.
"Our confidence level in the contractor, Flintco, and its subcontractors is not high," Bobel said. "However, we're going to work hard to try to exceed this schedule and bring it in before this date."
Council members shared staff's frustrations with the delays, with Vice Mayor Greg Scharff saying it is "really unfortunate that the contractor is not living up to the promises they made to us on this."
The issue of weatherproofing the building on Middlefield Road isn't the only recent snag to hit the project. A recent report from the project manager, Turner Construction Company, also refers to the contractor's failure to pass inspections, noting that city and special inspectors have had to re-inspect work several times. The progress report from Turner includes statements: "Little progress on dry-in for the last 4 months." "Work is not always ready when inspection is requested." "Work does not always pass inspection." "Window mock ups failed water leak testing."
The delay is just the latest unpleasant surprise to hit the high-profile project. Last year, the council learned that its design consultants failed to include some key details in their plans, prompting the contractors to raise the cost estimates. The council responded by hiring legal consultants to consider which, if any, contractor is at fault and by mandating regular update reports.
Councilman Larry Klein stressed on Monday the need to keep the public informed on the project's progress. The council also directed staff to include in future monthly reports a description of actions staff has taken to ensure there wouldn't be further delays and milestones the city should expect to meet in the ensuing reporting period.
The new Mitchell Park Library is the most ambitious of the three projects included in the 2008 bond. The city has already completed a major renovation of the Downtown Library and is scheduled to refurbish and expand Main Library once the Mitchell Park project is finished.