Monthly progress reports and internal emails indicate a dispute with one of GulfQuest’s primary contractors went unresolved for years, as the $45 million project’s substantial completion date shifted from August 2012 to early 2014.
Today, the museum honoring the Gulf Coast’s maritime industry has been issued a second 90-day temporary certificate of occupancy and is reported to be in its final stages of fit-out, but until last month, the dispute was left unresolved.
In January 2011, Mississippi contractor W.G. Yates & Sons Construction Company was awarded a $14 million contract for the museum’s structural work, the largest of about a dozen contracts related to the project. In turn, Yates subcontracted with Georgia-based J&H Southern Construction, Inc. for concrete work, which rented concrete forming materials from EFCO Corp., a multinational company with corporate headquarters in Iowa.
According to a lawsuit subsequently spawned from the relationship, in December 2011, J&H wrote a $107,395 check to EFCO that was returned for insufficient funds and one month later, “abandoned the job site.” Apparently, Yates attempted to make good on the debt and other mounting expenses by requesting a $700,000 change order from the city, which was a point of contention among the previous administration and the project’s management.
On May 9, Mayor Sandy Stimpson entered into a settlement agreement with Yates, paying the embattled contractor a close-out payment of $300,744 and allowing them to walk away “free and clear” of any other obligations to GulfQuest. Meanwhile, the city itself is completing a “punch list” of tasks originally assumed to be the responsibility of Yates, while EFCO’s civil lawsuit against the company has been ordered for mediation.
In a conversation about the settlement last week, Chief of Staff Colby Cooper wouldn’t assign the entirety of GulfQuest’s delays to the dispute with Yates, but suggested the project could have been completed sooner had it not existed.
“There were other things that needed to be done to obtain the temporary certificate of occupancy, in particular flood-proofing and waterproofing and other work that brought us up to code,” Cooper said.
The full amount of Yates’ requested change order would have funded the city’s demand that Yates correct dozens of deficiencies with the building’s handrails, essentially minor gaps and spaces that prevents it from reaching full ADA compliance. But the final settlement relieved the company of that duty and a few others and the tasks are currently being completed by city employees.
“Upon further review, our team realized the final certificate of occupancy could not be granted until the handrails and other issues were addressed and that is where we focused our attention,” Cooper said. “But as far as I can tell, there is nothing that Yates did or did not do from Nov. 4 (Stimpson’s first day in office) on, that slowed this process.”
But according to a February 2013 email to Yates from Brad Christensen, the city’s director of architectural engineering and point man on the project, Yates’ impasse on the work was indeed delaying its completion.
“Time is of the essence as many of the uncompleted or non-compliant items are not only impacting other prime contractors, but they are also starting to impact our tenant’s (GulfQuest) exhibit contractors as well,” Christensen wrote.
At the same time, the project’s managers gave Yates a “correction list,” which was returned April 8 with Yates indicating the work was complete. But in a memo dated April 15, the building’s designers reported the “work was not complete” and select concrete work was “of such poor quality that additional remedial actions will be required to correct it.”
In May, Christensen wrote Yates again and said the city would exercise its contractual right to carry out the work itself and deduct “reasonable” costs from payments owed to Yates. But according to Cooper, the previous administration continued to try to settle the dispute with Yates up until the date Stimpson took office.
“This was an atypical situation with multiple prime contractors and a program manager,” Cooper said, explaining the dispute was rooted in a contract that wasn’t completely specific.
“This is one of those gray areas where, as I understand it, they were responsible for a large portion of the handrails but the scope of their contract did not encapsulate all of the handrails,” he said. “So there was a certain amount of responsibility that ultimately gets thrown back to the city to figure out. At the end of the day, all things being equal, the city determined that it was a fair settlement to allow Yates to walk away free and clear with what they had done and move forward with whatever remediation we had because we owned part of the problem.”
Cooper also noted that in some instances, Yates performed work that was not required by its contract.
“The art of construction management appears to be that sometimes people do more and sometimes people do less and at the end of the day, you hope you open with a building,” he said. “But with all the nuances and bargaining, you will not see a project like that, run that way, under a Stimpson administration. It was just too convoluted and frankly now we’re in a position fully accepting responsibility … and going where we are.”
GulfQuest was awarded its first temporary certificate of occupancy March 10 and upon its expiration date June 8, was given a 90-day extension. In April, GulfQuest Executive Director Tony Zodrow said the museum couldn’t install some electronically sensitive exhibits until major construction was complete and would try to open six months after it is awarded a final certificate of occupancy.
Today, Cooper said, “the city is remediating the punch list and GulfQuest is installing exhibits and displays and we expect sometime this summer there will be significant progress made on the handrails and at that point we should be in good shape for a certificate of occupancy.”
To see documents related to the dispute, see this article on lagniappemobile.com.
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