A year late, jail medical center unfinished
Amid a crowding crunch at the jail, a series of delays plagues the much-needed building.
By JONATHAN ABEL
Published June 17, 2007
The medical building at the Pinellas County Jail was supposed to relieve overcrowding.
It was supposed to provide state-of-the-art medical treatment.
And it was supposed to be finished.
A year ago.
But the $36-million structure, with its 432 beds and spacious accommodations, is still not ready to use. Inmates won't be moved into the facility until Aug. 5 - at the earliest.
"It's not on schedule. It's definitely not on schedule, " said Tom Borawski, manager of Pinellas County's public works building design division. "There is not final completion yet."
While the building is "within a hair" of done and ready for use, Borawski said, there are still a few items for the general contractor, Skanska USA, one of the country's largest construction firms.
And an electronics company - working on a separate contract - has a month's work remaining before the building is operational.
The delays have cost more than time and money. Each hitch in the process has come at the expense of the health and safety of jail inmates and staff.
In the year since the wing was supposed to open, overcrowding reached crisis levels. The population swelled to 3, 900 - 1, 400 more than the jail was originally designed to house - and hundreds of inmates were forced to sleep on portable beds on the floor. Tensions rose, and inmate attacks on jail staff nearly doubled last year.
Meanwhile, inmates with non-essential medical needs waited months for treatment. In April, a judge issued an administrative order allowing jail officials to release some low-risk inmates, all in an effort to lessen the strain.
"We have an existing, ongoing, severe overcrowding problem, " said Pinellas County sheriff's Maj. Kirk Brunner, who runs the jail. "And this jail building would have helped to alleviate it."
Construction began in mid 2004, and on paper, an on-time project seemed possible. The health care facility would include infirmary beds a clinic and a pharmacy, as well as expanded dental and mental health space.
The county's contract with Skanska allotted 548 days for the building to reach substantial completion - which put the target date at Jan. 3, 2006 - and another 60 days for final completion. That deadline was extended by 75 days thanks to a 2005 change order.
But the delays far outstripped that extension. It wasn't until May 19 that an architect certified "total substantial completion" for the building, according to Borawski.
County, contractor are headed to mediation
In an effort to prevent delays, the contract has a clause levying liquidated damages of $1, 493 for every day that the project misses its substantial completion deadline.
But the exact length of the delay and who is responsible for it are in dispute.
The county and the contractor are headed to mediation to determine how much of the delay was Skanska's fault and how much was beyond the contractor's control.
County and Skanska officials could not speak about the specifics of the case, they said, for fear of jeopardizing their respective cases in mediation.
"We know the project - from the amount of authorized time - is about a year late, " said Joseph Morrissey, an assistant county attorney. "The difference is how much of that time the contractor is justified in asking for and how much is just late."
Fred Hames, senior vice president for Skanska, gave a different answer, saying the project had reached final completion weeks ago and the county was "real happy with the facility."
How many days late was the project?
"I can't really discuss it now, " he said, "because we're currently working with the county and the sheriff to determine all those elements of what might have caused the delays."
Some of the story behind the delays can be seen in the monthly progress reports Skanska submitted.
These reports show a series of delays - none of them individually enormous.
But the cumulative effect was a vastly delayed project.
From air-conditioning to permits, delays pile up
The problems began with getting the foundation permits. Then the foundation engineer had to be replaced. Building permits took weeks longer than expected. And the county was slow in releasing its bids for security electronics, the reports said.
Then there were delays spray fireproofing the building, as well as glitches with the air conditioning and the fire alarm system.
And the scope of the project was changed midstream. Trouble mounted upon trouble.
In 2005, a change order increased the cost of construction by $4.5-million after the contractor received bids that were higher than expected for electrical, drywall and masonry work.
A few weeks ago, county officials met with representatives from the Sheriff's Office and agreed not to point fingers - just to get it done.
And even as the medical building lurches toward completion, the county is working on another structure at the jail campus - a 288-bed facility for county inmates who have been sentenced - which is being built at the old Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority facility.
That building is due to open in September.
The good news is that these two buildings will take a substantial burden off the main facility.
And there is talk of using Penny for Pinellas money to construct a 2, 500-bed facility, which would address the long-term overcrowding problems.
But in the meantime, there's still the issue of getting the medical building up and running, long after it was due to open.
"It's a little ridiculous, " acknowledges Sheriff Jim Coats. "Isn't it?"
Jonathan Abel can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 445-4157.
[Last modified June 16, 2007, 21:37:29]
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