After years of construction errors, insufficient staffing and threatened lawsuits, Palo Alto on Friday terminated its contract with Flintco Pacific Inc., the contractor responsible for construction of the new Mitchell Park Library and Community Center.
In a letter to Flintco CEO Tom Maxwell that cites "historically poor performance and failure to make adequate progress toward completion," City Manager James Keene directed the company to discontinue all work on the project and prepare to hand over control of its subcontracts to the city. The move means that Palo Alto will now be looking for a new contractor to finish the project, a process that Public Works Director Mike Sartor said should take about two months. After the new contractor is in place, it should take another few months to complete construction.
The project kicked off in September 2010 and was scheduled to be completed in the spring of 2012. The latest complication means the earliest the new library will open is this summer. Sartor said that after the new contractor is hired, the company will be charged with fixing Flintco's mistakes and putting the finishing touches on the building complex on Middlefield Road. Though the library and community center have been more than 90 percent complete for some time, Sartor told the Weekly, much of the work will have to be redone. The work list includes about 2,000 items, he said, mostly minor things like crooked pavers and aluminum sashes that need to be replaced.
Sartor estimated that once the new company is hired, it would take about two months to do the work, provided it devotes "full resources" -- 50 to 60 people per day -- to the project.
"We didn't think Flintco had the capability of completing the job, particularly with the quality that we expected," he said.
The city's tension with Flintco had been building up over time but reached its climax in November, when the contractor missed its latest deadline. In March 2013, the company had indicated that the building would be completed by November 2013, a deadline that has come and gone with little progress. Flintco had stated in early November it would obtain a "temporary certificate of occupancy" for the library building by Nov. 27, which would allow staff to start moving in. That had not happened, prompting the city to issue a notice of default on Dec. 4. The notice gave Flintco 10 days to "cure its defaults" and come up with a full plan for completing the project. According to Keene, Flintco failed to do that and the plan it supplied has been insufficient.
"The latest completion plan submitted by Flintco omits critical tasks, continues to lack subcontractor coordination and contains little detail to permit the City to track and verify progress," the letter states. "In addition, Flintco has claimed a rate of progress in clearing repair and completion items that is greatly exaggerated, and continues to report items as completed that are not complete."
In late December, Palo Alto officials met with Flintco representatives and the company's surety and announced their intention to terminate the contract unless a plan is presented showing that the project will likely be completed by late January.
The plan offered by Flintco on Dec. 23 failed in that task. According to Keene, it was "deficient in numerous respects, including the failure to consider the coordination of trades, failure to take into account significant contract requirements for completion, and the expectation that a punch list would only take one day to prepare." Palo Alto and Flintco officials also clashed over which items are really "complete," with Flintco claiming that the extra work was a result of design deficiencies and the city accusing the company of mischaracterizing the status of completion. In late December, city officials told Flintco's surety, Zurich American Insurance Company, that it didn't seem likely that the company would complete the necessary work on hundreds of items without outside assistance and that if it didn't increase its staffing, its contract would be terminated.
Keene's Jan. 10 letter to Flintco states that Flintco's assertion that the project has reached completion "is yet another of many instances in which Flintco has demonstrated an unwillingness to accept responsibility for its own failings."
"Flintco has broken so many promises to get this Project finished that it has lost all credibility with the City," Keene wrote.
The Mitchell Park Library and Community Center is the largest and most expensive project in a $76 million bond to renovate the city's libraries that voters approved in 2008. Earlier this week, as he was recapping the city's 2013 accomplishments, Keene referred to the project as "an extreme disappointment" but stressed that it is "almost completed" and pledged that it will open this year.
Sartor said in a press release that despite the disruption, "we are confident that a new general contractor will be able to finish the project faster and with better quality than if Flintco had stayed on the project."
The company's sureties now have 60 days to find a new general contractor. If that doesn't happen, the city would hire its own replacement contractor and charge Flintco and the surety, according to the city's announcement of the contract termination.
Keene has requested that Flintco's sureties meet with the city on Jan. 13 to discuss "what action will be undertaken by the sureties to fulfill their obligations under the performance bond." The City Council is scheduled later that day to discuss potential litigation relating to the Mitchell Park project.
Online Editor Eric Van Susteren contributed to this report.