The request for money wasn't, in itself, out of the ordinary; major construction projects often involve change-order requests and design revisions, and the Mitchell Park Library and Community Center is the biggest public development the city has undertaken in four decades. It was the sum requested that raised the collective eyebrows of the City Council and prompted members to wonder aloud whether the city was getting fleeced by the contractor, Flintco Pacific. Just two years prior, the company's low bid of $24.4 million was a cause for celebration, beating out five others and coming in well below the city's projected estimate of $32.4 million.
But after Public Works Director Mike Sartor asked the council on Sept. 12 to raise the "contingency budget" — used to pay for unexpected cost increases — from 10 percent to 25 percent of the contract, council members began to wonder whether this was indeed a good deal. Nancy Shepherd, an accountant for 25 years, said she had never seen a contingency percentage that high (the American Institute of Architects recommends a contingency of 10 to 12 percent for projects the size of Mitchell Park Library, according to a city report). Pat Burt wondered if the city was being "gamed" by a construction company that "low-balled" its bid with the understanding that it would then tack on millions in costs during construction. Larry Klein was particularly blunt.
"I think we have to be frank with ourselves," Klein said. "We're not doing as well as we expected on this deal."
Council members had plenty of reasons to worry. For Palo Alto, the new Mitchell Park Library and Community Center is the most complex and expensive project in the $76 million bond that voters approved in 2008. Once built, the glassy, two-story, 41,000-square-foot library on Middlefield Road will feature a dedicated teen room, private study areas, the city's largest book collection and a host of eco-friendly features, such as a roof garden and solar panels. The 15,000-square-foot, two-building Community Center will feature a teen center, a cafe, a computer room, a game room and a large community room, all "wired with a state-of-the-art data feedback and control system," staff wrote in a recent report.
The complex's significance rests not only in the vast public needs that it is expected to fulfill. As Sartor pointed out in his Sept. 12 presentation, the success of the south Palo Alto project could determine the city's success with voters on bond projects down the road — a prescient point given that the council is now considering asking voters in November 2014 to approve a measure that would fund major infrastructure projects.
"There's a lot riding on this project, particularly considering future potential bond elections," Sartor said, explaining why he was "freaking out" about the runaway costs.
Sartor told the council the purpose of his request to raise the budget was "to keep the project moving on schedule and to avoid claims down the road." Today, two years and nine months after construction began, it's clear neither goal will be met.
The buildings are up but their interiors remain cavernous and unfurnished, with barren walls, wires dangling from ceilings and uneven floors. The plumbing and mechanical systems remain a work in progress. The city is still sorting out with its contractors an issue of sliding doors, most of which will likely need to be replaced. Many months after the project was supposed to be completed, landscaping remains strewn with crates, pallets and construction equipment.
Even if the library opens by the end of this year, as the city hopes and plans, it will be a year and a half late and cost millions more than the city hoped to spend when it signed the construction contracts in August 2010.
Long after the grand opening, the city will remain entangled in a legal mess involving its construction company, Flintco Pacific; its construction manager, Turner Construction; and the project architects, Group 4 Architecture. More public funds will be spent on legal assistance and construction consultants, whose jobs will be to help resolve the complicated and rancorous blame game that has come to characterize the project.
The breadth and depth of problems associated with construction of the Mitchell Park Library are illustrated in the dozens of letters exchanged over the past two years between top city officials and executives from Flintco, Turner and Group 4. The letters, which the Weekly obtained through a Public Records Act request, indicate that all parties involved deserve some blame.
Group 4's designs appear to have omitted critical details, such as the size of steel tubes needed in the construction. The thinly stretched Public Works staff outsourced oversight of Palo Alto's largest public project to a management company, Turner, with no inherent authority over Flintco, which resulted in clashes on the construction site between the city, Turner, Flintco and the various subcontractors, who objected to the high level of management and scrutiny.
But the most glaring problems can be attributed to Flintco, whose mismanagement of subcontractors, frequent clashes with city staff and construction managers, shoddy work, procedural delays and reluctance to devote the necessary manpower to complete the project have helped drag it well past deadline. Even if faulty designs contributed to Flintco's inability to complete the project on time, as the company has maintained with some justification throughout the process, the designs do not explain why so much of the work failed repeated inspections and had to be redone (at one point, the city considered it a victory when half of the windows passed a water test). Nor do they explain Flintco's inability to deal with significant but seemingly fixable flaws — including windows that failed water-proof tests and incorrect sliding doors that had been installed.
It was these factors that pushed the city last month to initiate default proceedings against Flintco, a process that could lead to the company being replaced, delaying construction by at least a few more months. With six months left until the city's latest deadline for completing the project and with work commencing on the expansion of Main Library, Palo Alto now finds two of its largest library branches closed at the same time — the very situation that council members were hoping to avoid when they were planning out the bond projects. This only adds to the pressure to clean up the mess at Mitchell Park as soon as possible.
The sense of urgency was apparent at a council meeting last month. Right before the council approved the latest addition to the project budget, Councilwoman Liz Kniss echoed her colleagues and city staff when she said she was "blown away" by what's happening at Mitchell Park.
"If I were looking at this from the outsider's angle, if I was looking at this as a member of the community, I'd wonder what has gone south with the Mitchell Park Library and Community Center and how have we reached this point of no return?" Kniss asked on May 20.
Dozens of documents reviewed by the Weekly help answer this question.
Things fall apart
Construction of the Mitchell Park Library and Community Center began in September 2010, but it wasn't until the following spring that staff began to notice something alarming — a flood of change orders (additional charges for unexpected work) that were rapidly pushing up the project's price tag.
By February 2011, Flintco had submitted and received approval for change orders totaling about $500,000. The sum doubled to $1 million by June 2011, after Flintco's steel subcontractor pulled out of the project, forcing the city to pay the replacement subcontractor overtime hours to keep the project on schedule.
Some of these change orders appeared reasonable and were caused by incomplete designs.
Others changes, however, fell into what John deRuiter, vice president of Turner, called a "gray area." DeRuiter, whose firm has a bungalow on the construction site, told the council during a September 2011 meeting that it's quite common for contractors who submit low bids to then do anything they can to raise the cost after winning the bid. He and Sartor suggested that Flintco was doing just this at Mitchell Park.
"Generally, when (the bid is) low, there are reasons for that," deRuiter told the council. "They do start to look for opportunities to make up that ground. They always know how low they are so they know what they left on the table. Very often it turns adversarial."
The favorable construction climate in the aftermath of the 2008 recession helped fuel this phenomenon, Sartor said, both at Mitchell Park and elsewhere. The competitive climate led to low bids but created a situation "where this contractor and other contractors we've been working with in the last couple of years really squeezed every opportunity they can to identify potential changes."
Nevertheless, Sartor urged the council to go along with the request to raise the budget, arguing that not doing so could raise costs even further down the road. Delays in payment could result in lost productivity, and a contractor could "file a claim at the end of the project that costs additional money including attorney fees and other additional costs," Sartor said.
Even given the low-bid construction climate, Flintco's actions stood out. By that September, it had requested $4 million in change orders and had received settlements from the city for about $1.25 million, according to site supervisor Greg Smith of Turner. By January 2012, the city had to hire additional consultants to assist in analyzing "the large volume of change orders," Sartor wrote in a letter to deRuiter.
Exasperated city officials characterized the change orders as both excessive and inadequate. In some cases, the documentation was so shoddy that the city itself had to issue change orders unilaterally to make sure Flintco got paid for its extra work, according to a March 14, 2012, letter from Sartor to Flintco's vice president, John Stump. In the letter, Sartor notes that Flintco's submissions included documentation "which oftentimes was duplicative and/or inconsistent with prior submittals, improper overcharges (such as double billing for overhead and tacking on inapplicable sales taxes), and failure to provide appropriate credit for deleted work."
By that point, the city had approved 14 change orders from Flintco, totaling $1.7 million, according to a city report (as of last week, the city has approved 42 Flintco change orders totaling $3.8 million, according to a status report released by Public Works).
In addition to peppering the city with dozens of change orders, Flintco also filed hundreds of "requests for information" to clarify design details. While such requests are a common practice in construction, the sheer breadth of documents issued by Flintco frustrated and overwhelmed city staff. By March 2012, there were more than 1,200 requests for information from Flintco, according to a letter from Stump.
But change orders and information requests weren't the only sticking points between the city and Flintco. There was ongoing tension between Flintco's project manager, Brian Stevenson, and staff from Public Works and Turner. Sartor wrote to Stump on Feb. 16, 2012, asking that Stevenson be replaced and claiming that Flintco "has not complied with key contract requirements in the areas of change order requests, submittals and schedules."
Sartor noted new management resources were "urgently needed to get this project moving at a much faster pace."
"The City of Palo Alto is extremely concerned with the slow pace of the (Mitchell Park) construction project and the extraordinary number of RFIs (requests for information) and CORs (change orders) generated by Flintco," Sartor wrote. "We believe that it is essential for Flintco to bring new project management resources on to the job to get this project progressing toward timely completion."
Flintco responded by agreeing to add a project manager, though Flintco's then-President David Parkes noted that Stevenson would remain on the team to resolve what he called "the labyrinth of design issues that continue to plague the project." Parkes also denied, then as now, that Flintco was at fault for any of the delays.
"Please understand that the lack of progress on the project is not due to inadequacies on the part of Flintco or its project manager, Brian Stevenson," Parkes wrote to Sartor on Feb. 20.
Stevenson remained on the site until fall 2012, when the city requested that he be removed from the project entirely, claiming that he had "a negative tone and interrupts meetings." (Stevenson did not respond to a request for comment for this article.)
In addition to management disputes, things at the construction site were likewise messy: Flintco installed a vapor barrier, material designed to keep dampness out, but it was "bubbling" and its seams were "lifting off," according to Sartor's March 29 letter to Parkes. The city also learned that Flintco's superintendent in charge of interiors, Gary Gibson, did not have interiors experience (he was subsequently replaced). On a particularly troubling note, the subcontractor in charge of glazing, Fast Glass, was repeatedly failing water tests on its windows. In the same March letter, Sartor wrote that Fast Glass' work "is substantially unsatisfactory" and requested that Flintco "determine a new course of action with respect to this subcontractor."
But Flintco again deflected the criticism, asserting that it wasn't Fast Glass that was at fault but the city and the designs. Parkes wrote to Sartor on April 5 noting that other portions of window assemblies had passed the tests.
Fast Glass, meanwhile, pointed the finger of blame at Turner, which was overseeing the glass testing. Fast Glass claimed tests were conducted at a higher pressure than industry standard. The glass company accused Turner of "intentionally delaying this project" by generating failed tests and by imposing "harassing scrutiny of Fast Glass' professional caulkers, which caused these caulkers to quit after only one week of work."
"Fast Glass did not agree to comply with unfounded, unrealistic, extra-contractual demands issued by a third party for this project," Fast Glass stated, alluding to the demand that its glass pass water tests.
By early May 2012, progress was starting to be made. On May 3 and May 9, three of the six installed windows passed the test, a result that Assistant Public Works Director Phil Bobel called "an encouraging improvement" (before this, every one of them had failed). This "encouraging" sign, which doesn't exactly set a high bar for encouragement, was a rare glimmer of hope for the city at a time when its relationship with Flintco was further eroding.
Meanwhile, the battle over change orders and requests for information continued. In March, the city had instituted new rules for change orders to require more details, including information pertaining to the time it took to complete the job. Flintco responded by calling the new requirements "onerous" and "impossible" to comply with. The company retracted all of its change-order requests in response to the new policy. The city viewed this as just the latest delay tactic.
In one exchange of correspondence around this time, Flintco's Parkes alleged that the city and Turner "have continually failed to timely review more than 230 (change orders) and provide Flintco with the necessary direction on how to proceed with the changed work."
About the only thing that the parties agreed on was that the number of changes made to the project was ridiculously high.
One change in particular that the two parties squabbled over for more than a year involved exterior sliding doors. The aluminum-framed doors used by Flintco were "not designed, manufactured or tested for exterior use," according to a July 16 report from Karen Hojas, a Turner project manager who joined the construction team in the spring of 2012 to help get it back on track.
Hojas wrote that Flintco was notified of its failure to comply with the contract on May 24, 2012 (a letter from Bobel suggested the company had known about the problem since at least April), and was given seven days to correct its errors. The time had passed "with no evidence corrective work is underway," Hojas wrote.
"Consequently, they are not acceptable to the architect or the owner under any circumstances," Hojas wrote of the doors in her "notice of defective work."
"The doors are to be removed from all exterior locations and replaced with the product specified as the basis of design. The time for substitutions is past, and none will be considered."
When this notice brought no response from Flintco, Bobel followed up with an email to top Flintco executives. The city, he said in a July 23 letter, is "in a difficult situation with the large, multiple sliding doors." If Flintco didn't order the new doors, the city would do so itself. This would cost more, Bobel said, and the additional funds would be deducted from Flintco's pay.
"Hopefully they can be ordered right away. Many thanks," Bobel wrote.
Flintco's Vice President Stump shot back a one-line response: "Flintco has complied with the contract. We have no current plans for replacement of these doors."
The two sides tussled over this issue for more than a year, and resolution is only now starting to surface. Sartor said last week that Flintco has finally agreed in writing to replace two big sliding doors with the correct models. The two sides are still trying to figure out what to do about the three smaller sliding doors, which Flintco had modified to fit the design and which passed a water test last week only to fail an air-blasting test. Bobel said the decision on whether these doors will be fixed or replaced will be made in the next few days.
Public Works staff weren't the only ones getting frustrated with Flintco as the first year of construction neared its end. And neither was Flintco the only party on the receiving end of finger-pointing when it came to the project's escalating delays and cost overruns.
By fall 2012, there was bad blood among all four parties.
Turner staff was putting in more hours and demanding more money. The city was resisting and arguing that Turner should abide by the terms of the "will not exceed" contract that had been authorized.
Flintco's new project manager, Paul Zanek, complained in an Oct. 4 letter to the city about Turner's observation reports, which he said "misrepresent the facts and discredit Flintco."
"It makes appearances that Flintco is not addressing legitimate items in the OR's (change orders)," Zanek wrote. "I'm compelled to question their motive. Are they trying to make it look worse than it is?"
He also noted that Turner had been adding "layer upon layer of inspections, which are disruptive and take away Flintco's resources required for the execution of our contract work."
Senior Public Works staff had its own problem with Turner. In July 2012, Thomas Tripp, a manager at Turner, said in a letter that his company expects full payment for the "additional services" it has provided. The letter came with an ultimatum — raise the budget now or we walk off the job.
"If the city does not authorize compensation for these additional services at the Sept. 4 council meeting, Turner will immediately demobilize and will expect full compensation for all of our staff to that date, in accordance with our contract," Tripp wrote in July. "We will not provide the services in those tasks and categories from which the funding has been transferred, unless the funds are replenished."
Sartor responded by noting that the city relied on Turner to "fully manage" the project and reminded the company of the "generous contractual amount of approximately $3.2 million."
"As these were the largest building projects the city had undertaken in years, the city had neither the in-house expertise nor the resources to manage projects of this magnitude, and therefore turned to Turner, as one of the largest construction firms in the nation, to faithfully perform a comprehensive suite of services on the city's behalf," Sartor wrote on Oct. 3.
"Now, after the city has expended almost the entire amount of funds authorized under the contract, and when the project is at a deeply troubled state with millions of dollars of claims at stake and almost a year behind schedule, Turner is attempting to force the city to convert the contract that the parties both signed from a 'not to exceed' contract into a 'time and materials' contract, or be faced with a threat of Turner's 'immediate demobilization,'" he wrote.
The city, he added, "has concerns about Turner's performance on this job."
Flintco also had concerns about Turner. Flintco's Parkes argued in a November letter that since Hojas' arrival that spring, "Turner has been combative, confrontational, disruptive and argumentative."
"Despite the overwhelming design deficiencies that affected all aspects of the project, Turner spends inordinate amounts of time and resources in an effort to transition design responsibility from the city's architect to Flintco and its subcontractors," Parkes wrote.
Parkes claimed that Turner "failed miserably" in its duties as construction manager and requested that Turner's project manager, Hojas, be removed from the project (she wasn't).
And then there was Group 4, the architects also contracted to handle the city's other two library projects included in the $76 million bond — the successfully completed renovation of the Downtown Library and the recently launched expansion of the Main Library.
In a September 2011 report, after the steel subcontractor had pulled out of the job, Sartor noted that the designs were incomplete in that they didn't include information pertaining to steel tubing, including the size that would be needed to reinforce exterior walls.
In January 2012, Sartor notified Group 4 officials that "portions of the plans and specifications provided by Group 4 were inadequate, unclear and incomplete, resulting in an unusually high number of RFIs (requests for information), ASIs (architect's supplemental information), change order requests, and contractor demands for additional costs, including costs for related delay and lost productivity."
"In addition, Group 4's failure to provide timely responses to RFIs has further exacerbated the delay and lost productivity claims asserted by the contractor," Sartor wrote in his January 2012 letter.
In March 2012, Group 4's principal David Sturges responded to Sartor, saying the firm is "aware of the barrage of contractor generated RFIs and change order requests that have resulted in delays and extra costs on this project." But he rejected Flintco's suggestion that Group 4 is to blame for these requests.
"We disagree that a substantial portion of the costs and delays being incurred by the city are the result of deficiencies in Group 4's services or untimely responses to RFIs. ... In the past 15 years, we have participated in the building of half a dozen libraries of comparable size and complexity as this project. All have been completed on time and none have experienced what we have had here with the contractor and the construction management team," Sturges wrote.
Flintco, meanwhile, has continuously blamed Group 4's design plans for the myriad complications. Parkes noted in an April 2012 letter that although changes are "anticipated and are a normal part of any construction project, it is unreasonable for the parties involved in the Mitchell Park Library project, after nearly 20 months of construction, to be moored down in a quagmire of extensive design changes that critically affect so many aspects of the very work being performed in the field."
Tom Maxwell, who had replaced Parkes as Flintco's president, made a similar case in January 2013 when he wrote that "as a result of the architect's incomplete design documents and the multiple design iterations required to resolve the issues, Flintco was forced to repeatedly prepare submittals for the same scope of work."
In response to the Weekly's request for an interview, Sturges of Group 4 said that the city has asked that "all questions regarding ongoing city projects be directed to the Department of Public Works." Sartor did not absolve Group 4 of blame but focused most of his criticism on Flintco.
"We acknowledge there have been some issues with plans and specs, but that's not the whole story," Sartor told the Weekly. "Our contention is that Flintco has done a poor job managing the subcontractors and doing the work."
More money, more problems
The problems spilled over into the new year. In January 2013, the city learned that because of the delays, the new buildings were already getting moldy.
"The project has now been exposed to two winters, and as a result the city's inspectors have recently noted mold accumulation," Phil Bobel wrote on Jan. 18 to Flintco's Maxwell.
That was just one of many problems Bobel flagged in the letter. Two more subcontractors had recently been replaced "due to nonperformance." One of them, Bay Mountain Air, did not follow the plans when installing the pipes in the HVAC system, Bobel wrote, and nearly 60 percent of the pipes in the mechanical room had to be removed and reinstalled.
"In addition, work performed by other subcontractors has been deficient," Bobel wrote. "Flintco's work repeatedly fails inspection and must be re-performed."
Flintco's efforts to remedy the situation didn't strike the city as encouraging. Bobel noted in his letter that on Jan. 9, 2013, there were only 10 workers on site.
"There should be 50 or more workers on site at this critical juncture," Bobel wrote.
Flintco's Stump wrote back in February, arguing once again that the delays were caused by deficient contract documents, incomplete drawings and specifications and the city's "mismanagement of the entire process associated with the ongoing completion of design."
"The Palo Alto Public Works Department often claims that it is merely 'acting as good stewards of public funds,' characterizing its actions as 'in the best interests of the city and its constituents.' In reality the Palo Alto Department of Public Works has caused millions of dollars in unnecessary added costs and many months of delay," Stump wrote.
Stump also defended Flintco's high number of requests for information, many of which the city claimed were frivolous. By this point, Flintco had written more than 1,525 RFIs requesting clarification, Stump wrote, "and another 2,000 if the follow-up RFIs are included." Some of these requests, he acknowledged, sought information already contained in the contract documents. He attributed this to "human error."
"Just as the contractor should expect to write a reasonable quantity of RFI's to account for
'human error' in the contract documents, the design team should expect a modest percentage of RFI's to be extraneous," Stump wrote.
By last month, the project had reached its nadir. Progress remained at a snail's pace. In April, the city's bi-monthly report on Mitchell Park estimated that the project was 82 percent complete. (The June report pegged the completion at 84 percent.) The sliding doors that Flintco had installed and declined to replace failed a water test in late April, according to a letter Sartor wrote in May. And work crews on the site remained paltry. On May 2, City Manager James Keene described the situation in a letter to Flintco's Maxwell.
"Work crews are quitting or failing to show up to the job on a regular basis," Keene wrote. "The number of workers on site on a typical day falls considerably short of what would be expected and does not support significant progress on either available work or essential corrective work. On days when crews are present, Flintco is not adequately coordinating or supervising trades. Much of the work fails building department inspections or is identified on site as not complying with the contract requirements. Most troubling is that Flintco has submitted no plan for completing the project any time soon."
The target date for finishing the complex was continuing to slip. In April, the new schedule extended completion from Oct. 8 to Nov. 22. Later, it was extended again to the intentionally vague "late 2013." Keene notified Flintco that the company needed to submit within 14 days a detailed plan of correction for resolving outstanding issues. Failure to do so would result in default proceedings, which could involve Flintco being replaced by another construction company. Flintco's surety, Zurich American Insurance Company, was put on notice that the city was preparing to begin the default process.
Flintco's John Stump responded to Keene on May 10 with a timeline for making various fixes on the construction site. He also once again maintained that the fault lay with the city and argued that the project would go faster if the city processed change orders "fairly and timely," did a better job responding to requests for information and made "fair and timely progress payments."
Stump noted that the project subcontractors "have experienced tremendous inefficiency while the payments from the city are delayed or denied entirely."
"If not for Flintco's willingness to essentially finance the project by paying its subcontractors, even though the city has not paid Flintco, there would be far fewer tradespersons on this site. In order to add manpower we MUST remove the constraints preventing progress and make payment to subcontractors for the work and changes that they have performed," Stump wrote.
Sartor responded to the issue of timeliness by alleging in a May 22 letter that Flintco had failed to comply with requirements for submitting change orders. These include giving the city notification of claims within seven days. The contractor also "continues to include improper percentage markups" in its requests, which requires recalculation on the city's part, Sartor wrote.
"If Flintco desires quicker processing of its change order requests, the city suggests that Flintco examine its own failure to comply with contract requirements."
The rancor continued throughout May, with Sartor responding to Stump's letter with his sharpest denunciation yet of the company's conduct thus far. Flintco, Sartor wrote on May 22, attempted throughout the project "to excuse its poor management, coordination and quality control by blaming the completeness of the design." The company, he said, never explained why it chose to bid on the project if it really believed the design was inadequate. His conclusion was blunt.
"Flintco appears to be suffering from either an appalling lack of construction experience or is engaged in a concerted effort to manufacture claims," Sartor wrote.
Flintco's John Stump declined the Weekly's request to discuss the dispute and referred instead to his comments made in his May 10 letter to Keene.
"The resolution of the dispute between the city and Flintco will remain secondary to project quality and completion," Stump added in an email to the Weekly.
On May 20, the council made its latest budget adjustment, allotting another $565,000 to Turner and another $260,000 to Group 4. Just before the unanimous vote, Councilwoman Liz Kniss asked the question on everyone's mind: Who is to blame for the delays and cost overruns at Mitchell Park?
"This is running ... not only millions over, but it is inconveniencing a number of people and not just those who would use the library," Kniss said.
In responding to Kniss, City Attorney Molly Stump said the city remains disappointed and concerned about the delays and price increases. It continues to face "numerous problems on the site with the contractor asking for additional changes and increased costs to be provided to them." Stump said at the May 20 meeting that the city will be implementing the "liquidated damages" provision in its contract, which would require Flintco to compensate the city for delays that are deemed to be Flintco's fault after the project is completed.
The city is also bracing for a protracted legal battle. The city has retained seven different consultants to help it sort out the Mitchell Park mess, including three law firms, a firm specializing in design disputes, a consultant focused on "project control and forensics," a structural-engineering firm and a consultant who will focus on project scheduling. The seven contracts total a little more than $1 million.
The city has also reached an agreement with Big D Builder, the contractor that last year completed the renovation of the Palo Alto Arts Center, to "correct errors and finish work when Flintco Pacific fails to do so," according to a staff report.
Flintco might not be the only company that will be entangled in a legal mess with the city long after the new Mitchell Park Library and Community Center open their properly installed sliding doors to the public. The city has also put Group 4 and Turner on notice that "we have some concerns with respect to some of their work as well," Molly Stump said.
"Those are being deferred to final adjudication toward the end of the project," she said.
A glance at the construction site is a sufficient indicator of how much work remains to be done. The three buildings are up, but wires extend from ceilings and walls are barren. This week, half of the floor panels in the new library were removed from the ground floor for corrections and inspections of the mechanical work, giving the ground floor the look of an empty chess board.
Last week, the expansive yard around the buildings was strewn with construction equipment and debris. Stacks of 2-by-4s, dormant tractors and bushels of pipes lay in the afternoon sun.
Workers in yellow and orange helmets dotted the sprawling site, installing mechanical, electrical and plumbing systems.
But the scene also offers signs of hope. Near the Middlefield Road side of the campus, workers from Flintco and the city were examining the large crates of planters that had just arrived and that will be installed into the library's "green wall." Paving had just been completed for a small basketball court outside the teen room, and a crew of workers was about halfway through installing decorative pavers at the courtyard between the three buildings in the complex. One worker carried a giant bundle of blue wires to the small electric room, which already includes more than 1,000 wires.
For the city, perhaps the most promising sign is the number of workers on the scene. While in January, only nine contractors were observed on site, the property was a hive of activity this week.
Decorative stones forming the library's facade had just been installed, and the library's environmental features are mostly in place. When asked if the city still expects the project to be completed this year, Bobel said meeting the deadline should be "doable."
Things have been turning in a more "positive direction" since the city warned Flintco about the default notice in early May, Sartor said. Top staff have met with Maxwell in recent weeks to make it "very clear that we intend to default them unless they pick up the pace." After a May 20 meeting with Maxwell and John Stump, Flintco also agreed to have its chief operating officer on the construction site two days a week, Sartor said. Flintco has beefed up its workforce and is now averaging 50 people a day on the site, according to Sartor.
"They have been working on Saturdays and doing work that is non-disruptive to the community," Sartor said. "They are redoubling their efforts."
Despite the brutal experience of the last two-and-a-half years, Public Works staff remains hopeful that the Mitchell Park Library and Community Center will be completed by the end of the year and intends to push Flintco toward meeting this deadline, Sartor said. But given the nature of this project, any optimism the city still has for meeting this deadline must necessarily be shrouded in caution.
"The question is, 'Can they turn the aircraft carrier around and get it going again?'" Sartor said.