A standard part of capital improvement projects include penalties for not completing work on schedule.
On Sunday, Columbus Mayor Keith Gaskin posted on the mayor’s official Facebook account that Walters Construction of Laurel had accumulated $15,500 in penalties — $500 per day — for having missed its original contract deadline of Sept. 23.
Although not mentioned in his post, the other part of the $6.5 million project — concrete work focusing primarily on installing handicap-accessible ramps — has also far exceeded its originally scheduled deadline.
Neel-Schaffer Engineering is overseeing the project for the city. Zach Foster, project manager for Neel-Schaffer, said the contractor, JEM Concrete, was granted a 45-day extension on its contract, which was originally scheduled for Sept. 6. That extension ends today, Foster said.
The concrete project is relatively small ($300,000), but the work is even further behind schedule.
“I’d say their work is about 65 percent completed,” said Kevin Stafford of Neel-Schaffer, which took on oversight on the project in July after the city’s project management contract with J5 Global expired in June. “At last count, they had installed 35 ramps, but 17 of them had to be torn out because they weren’t up to specifications. That’s been the cause for most of the delays, having to go in and do those ramps over.”
Foster said the contract calls for 80 handicap-accessible ramps.
Another pressing concern is the status of the paving part of the contract.
Of the 142 city streets that are part of the project, 34 (24 percent) were still not complete as of Sunday, according to the spreadsheet posted by the mayor.
Contracted deadlines on projects provide for days that contractors don’t work — including weekends, holidays and “weather days” agreed to by both parties. Once contractors exceed the deadline, they are subject to daily penalties. Stafford said the $500 per day penalty is the common practice.
Although there have been weather issues, the primary cause of the delays, Stafford said, involve equipment and crew issues that have plagued both contractors, something Stafford noted during his update on the projects in August.
The continued delays are not entirely a surprise.
When Neel-Schaffer took over the project in July, Stafford noted that only 25 percent of the work had been completed. In his August update, he told the city council that both projects were near 50 percent complete with about a month left on the scheduled contracts.
“I think it’s nearly impossible for them to meet the contracted deadline,” Columbus interim Chief Operations Officer Mark Alexander Jr. said after the meeting.
Stafford said he believes both contractors are making good-faith efforts to complete the projects as soon as possible.
“Walters Construction brought in an extra paving crew to try to get caught up,” Stafford said. “But with two crews working, they would either run out of the materials they had available at the time or catch up to the point that they couldn’t do any more work until more streets were milled. They only have one milling machine, so having the extra paving crew didn’t really help all that much.”
Stafford said he believes both contractors are making better progress but was reluctant to suggest when the projects might be finished.
“That’s the magic question,” he said. “Hopefully, the paving could be finished by Thanksgiving and the concrete at some point after that. That’s just an estimation.”
Alexander said there is little the city can do to speed progress on the projects at this point.
“It’s in the city’s best interest to try to work with contractors they have,” Alexander said Monday. “If you have to re-bid the job, we already know, one, that it’s going to be more expensive and, two, that there would be delays created by the process of hiring a new contractor. In the end, those delays might exceed the amount of time that the contractors we have now need to finish the projects.”
Representatives with neither JEM nor Walters Construction responded to messages Monday.
Slim Smith is a columnist and feature writer for The Dispatch. His email address is [email protected]