Costs, changes stalled terminal at MIA

Sep. 6--Subcontractors had to halt work because doors were locked and no one had the key. A prime contractor had no clue how much nearly a dozen jobs cost -- and "no clear direction" on how to proceed on masonry wall, elevator shaft and electrical...


POJV convinced them otherwise. It said two committee members working for Parsons were not aware of the business tie and that the third worked for Odebrecht, negating any conflict. It argued the low bid wasn't necessarily the best value, and that Gilbert Southern's experience and know-how "could sufficiently offset a higher bid price."

But the company quickly encountered delays, errors and cost increases that boosted the contract to $55 million.

In memos to POJV, Gilbert Southern blamed "unforeseen conditions" and the actions of others, yet POJV accused it of making "chameleon-like changing excuses [new excuses were uttered after the previous excuses were refuted]."

In April 2006, POJV issued a "Notice of Default" to the firm, which was then called Kiewit Southern, detailing how its "procrastination" delayed work. Kiewit declined to comment. MIA said the company later finished the job and that the parties settled the dispute.

TOO MANY CHANGES

By July 2003, the flurry of change orders threatened to "overwhelm the trade contractors and the craftsmen, as well as inspectors and Building Department staff, and lead to errors in what actually gets built and accepted," Loren W. Smith, a POJV project director, wrote to DAC.

Discord between construction manager POJV and DAC, the county's consultant, dogged the contract, with pointed memos back and forth about who was at fault for delays.

'We understand that POJV's request for 'drawings' is solely geared to the POJV's strategy in delaying the project," DAC project manager Marty Turner wrote in 2004.

Neither DAC nor POJV addressed Miami Herald questions about that memo. Turner no longer works in Miami and could not be reached for comment, despite an interview request made through DAC.

Meanwhile, POJV's frustration with DAC was also apparent: The South Terminal job was so far behind that even small details carried a tone of urgency.

"It is critical that the color for the toilet partitions are selected by the Owner/A/E and returned to our office without further delay," POJV wrote to DAC in July 2004, two months after a contractor had pressed for a color.

The friction continued, with POJV accusing DAC of "attempts to shift the responsibility" over change orders, and taking "exception to the general tone of your letter" in another 2004 dispute over costs.

DAC downplayed the apparent rancor in these exchanges, which added to already voluminous paper trails and red tape.

"Discussions like this are a normal part of a project of this size, scope and complexity," DAC program manager Paul Francis wrote, saying the issue was subsequently resolved.

While saying wrangling on huge projects is "common," Aviation Department Deputy Director Max Fajardo said the impact on the "ultimate cost and time of the project won't be determined until the project is closed out."

'NO DIRECTION'

The delays were felt in the field.

Subcontractor Homestead Concrete & Drainage Inc. was hired in September 2003 and told its work would begin that December. It promptly spent $50,000 on a new concrete machine for the job.

"It is now January of 2005, and we still have not been able to start any work," wrote Homestead Concrete's Alfredo Cordero, saying material costs had jumped 25 percent in that time. Cordero declined to comment further.

By September 2006, contractor Hensel Phelps Construction Co. wrote to POJV that it could not guess how long it would take or how much it would cost to complete a series of tasks ranging from electrical work to masonry wall restraint installation. The reason: "There is no clear direction for Hensel Phelps to proceed."

That same month, POJV wrote of another cause for delay: locked doors on some rooms.

Specifically, a POJV manager wrote, subcontractors "are often unable to gain access to the rooms when they need to perform work, due to the doors being locked. As a result, work is lost and delays result when the search for access, or a key, begins."

Saying the issue had been discussed "many times," he again asked for keys.

Fajardo, of the Aviation Department, said the rooms contained sensitive security equipment, that procedures were in place for subcontractors to gain access, and that the situation was resolved in two weeks.

Miami Herald business writer Ina Paiva Cordle contributed to this report.

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