Representative Ann Morgan Lilly's district newsletter came out recently and it had an interesting update on the San Jacinto Plaza project.
You may remember that a construction company with zero experience in the type of construction required in the plaza won the bid after being $3 million lower than the average bid. They bid around $4.2 million and every other experienced contractor was in the $6 - $7 million range. This same construction company was awarded no-bid contracts for the new city hall and was not required to adhere to mandated apprenticeship programs. Contractors from El Paso (this contractor is not from El Paso) got the idea that this company was being treated differently than everyone else and making a hefty profit because of it.
With many questions about the bid, city council said there'd be no change orders. They can't really say that, but they said it. I figured that since the contractor had been treated so differently than the locals, they'd quietly just give him some quantity changes/change orders to the tune of $3 million (nearly doubling his original bid) or give him five years to finish the project... or let him not use the specified materials (they are very expensive). One way or another - engineering was going to fix this for their favored contractor.
Well... we learn a lot in Lilly's newsletter. A project manager from engineering wrote this for her letter:
"A question I've heard time and again is, "Why aren't there more people working on the site?"
The answer is simple. Safety.
Because of the compact nature of the site -- less than an acre -- the contractor cannot have too many workers on site at once while using heavy equipment. We have contemplated that since the inception of this project. We built construction schedules knowing that the site could realistically only accommodate so many workers and tradesmen.
We can't sacrifice safety for speed.
Our patience will be fully rewarded in early 2015 when we are all able to gather again in San Jacinto Plaza.
The $6 million renovation of the plaza is being funded in part of the 2012 Quality of Life Bonds. When renovations are complete, Luis Jimenez' Los Lagartos sculpture will return to its place in the center of the plaza surrounded by a new water feature and protected from the harsh sun by a special canopy. "
Okay... where do I start?
First of all, city engineering is notorious for showing up at your job site and demanding you have double the amount of men you currently have working on the project. Day one, meeting one - the city demands you have more people on site. Ask any contractor who has done work for the city and they'll tell you the same thing.
Granted - the city has no say in how many people you have on site. They can complain, but they can't do anything about it.
So it's odd that now you have a guy from engineering claiming that they can't have a lot of people on site for safety reasons.... because the area is too small. I distinctly remember being the superintendent on the Davis Street road and drainage improvements where every inch of that job site was tight. It was between two schools, a YMCA and in a neighborhood. Every single day the city inspector wondered why we didn't have 20 more men on site. I find it very hard to believe that the city would now all of sudden request less workers on a site for safety reasons. If the site is unsafe - it's unsafe with 50 guys or with one guy. There is not magic safety number.
Bottom line - IT'S AN EXCUSE FOR A CONTRACTOR WHO ISN'T MOVING VERY FAST.
The second issue is the sudden jump in the cost of the project. I remember City Manager Joyce Wilson making the point that they had no more than the $4.2 million or so for the project, so it didn't matter what the others bid - they were going with what they had budgeted. Well, now all of sudden that number is $1.8 million higher - WHY?
What's in that number that we don't know about?
Has a change order been awarded that I was not made aware of? I did submit and ORR last month asking for any change orders on the project and they told me there was nothing to report. So what gives?
Bottom line - it looks like shenanigans here. Unless someone has a good answer, it's just fishy.