DSS building a “train wreck,” county attorney says

Published 9:34 pm Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Lawsuit probable

The Polk County Board of Commissioners discovered that problems with the construction of its department of social services (DSS) building may result in the county having to file a lawsuit to recoup damages.

Commissioners met Monday, Aug. 5 and heard from county attorney Jana Berg, who said she has reviewed some files and she doubts very seriously even when repairs are made the county will end up with a LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certified building.

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“It was a train wreck honestly,” Berg told commissioners.

She said the county went with the lowest responsible bidder, as required by state statute, and it became apparent at some point that the contractor (Able Construction) was having financial difficulties. Berg said some subcontractors approached the county when they didn’t get  paid. She also said some of the subcontractors didn’t perform the work properly.

The main issues are with the sewer system to the building and the HVAC.

Berg said the HVAC system designed for the building could never perform what it was required to do, not to mention that proper sealing of the building can never occur because the county would have to destruct the building to seal it.

“On top of this, Able Construction walked off the job,” Berg said.

What remains to be seen, Berg continued, is what will be a satisfactory fix to the problems.

“I think the best thing to do is look at this as litigation,” Berg said. “We have contract damage and who do we sue for that?”

Berg suggested the county hire a specialized firm who can explain what the county ordered in the building and what they received, as well as to serve as an expert witness in court. Berg told commissioners the county may be looking at five to six defendants in the case due to the issues.

The county is working currently with North American Surety Company on getting the fall of the sewer line repaired, but expressed concern over how the work has to be completed, mainly because of possible interruptions in DSS services.

Commissioner Keith Holbert began the DSS discussion by showing pictures of some of the issues. Bathrooms and showers back up due to the sewer line not being constructed properly and the HVAC system does not work properly, including leaks in the duct work and humidity problems.

“This building being less than two years old,” Holbert said, “I just think the citizens deserve to get the full costs of the $1.8 million they paid for it.”

Holbert said the county is looking at cutting a 12-18-inch trench through the middle of the building and taking up the 4-inch water line, then pulling dirt in and reinforcing the steel and putting concrete back in to fix the sewer. He described that it will be manual labor of wheelbarrowing dirt out of the building.

Holbert mentioned the county is allowed to close the office one day per week, with  Fridays suggested so work could be done Friday through Sundays. He said the work could take months.

Berg said as much as the sewer will be an inconvenience, it is minor compared to the HVAC problems, which a fix has not yet been determined. Berg said North American, she believes, has devised a fix for the fall of the sewer line and has said they could start that work in September or October with plans to do the work at night and on weekends.

“There’s some things about the HVAC system you’re never going to get fixed whether you repair or replace it because it’s not sealed,” Berg said. “The building will never be climate controlled like we ordered.”

Resident Debbie Arceneaux, who also serves on the DSS board said someone needs to be held accountable for the building.

“We cannot afford to let these kinds of things happen to buildings we build in our county,” said Arceneaux. “It’s just deplorable as far as I’m concerned.”

Arceneaux also expressed concern over equipment and documents in the building that the county cannot afford to allow to be wet or damp as well as employees and the public who have to deal with the heating and cooling issues of the building. She said the thought of ripping the building up and having to carry debris back and forth is mind boggling.

Arceneaux also said the DSS board has two projects going on right now and this construction is going to disrupt the whole operation of DSS, which will be a big task, especially if they have to close the building one day a week.

Another issue was brought up when commissioner chair Michael Gage asked about security measures while construction is going on inside the building due to protected records.

Interim county manager Marche Pittman said the rules are that some rooms can’t be accessed without an employee there. Commissioners asked whether or not work on the weekends would require an employee to be there in order for contractors to be present.

Pittman answered that something would have to be done.

“We need to go ahead and find this firm,” said commissioner Tom Pack. “We need to hire somebody that works for the county to give us an honest assessment with how we need to fix this (building).”

Pittman said there is money leftover in the DSS project budget the county can use to hire a firm.