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Contractor for addition to jail sues

The company says it is owed more than $4-million. The county says that is too much.

By EDIE GROSS

© St. Petersburg Times, published April 27, 2000


The new addition to the Pinellas County Jail has been open since December, but the controversy over its long-delayed construction continues.

Clark Construction Group, the Maryland company that built the seven-story addition, has sued the county claiming it is still owed more than $4-million.

County officials say they do not owe Clark that much. John Houck, the county's design and construction administrator, said he is still tallying the final bill, but "it wouldn't be anywhere near that."

The project, originally scheduled to be completed in January 1999, was plagued by delays: Locks malfunctioned, software did not work correctly, roofs and plumbing leaked, items in the renovated jail kitchen did not work.

Houck said those problems have been addressed, and the county has been moving employees and inmates into the jail for the last four months. But the county is still evaluating nearly 200 change orders -- changes made after the project is started -- requested by Clark and other subcontractors to see if the county should pay for them.

"In some cases, it would be work we felt was already done or unnecessary," Houck said. "We don't feel like we've had the opportunity to really sit down with them and go through the process of completing that evaluation."

In its lawsuit, Clark claims the county -- not the contractors -- initiated more than 550 change orders during the $28-million project. Of those, 176 have not been paid for, the suit said.

As a result, Clark said, the company has not been able to pay all of its subcontractors -- three of whom have sued Clark.

Those subcontractors performed electrical and plumbing work on the jail addition and also provided kitchen equipment, said Louise Pulizzi, Clark's spokeswoman.

"We're being sued by subcontractors who are looking to be paid for work they performed. We cannot pay them until we, Clark Construction, are paid," Pulizzi said. "We have in turn sued the county as a protective step."

The 796-bed addition, which will house medium- and maximum-security inmates, was considered necessary to relieve jail crowding. The jail had housed up to 2,600 inmates at a time last year, even though it has space for only 2,261 permanent beds. Temporary bunks are added as needed.

Since December, 75 county employees have moved into the jail addition as have 227 prisoners, said sheriff's Sgt. Greg Tita. About 2,300 inmates remain in the old jail.

Sheriff's officials did not know when the rest of the new building would be occupied, but they have said in the past they would need to hire more employees before completely moving the operations.

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