Contractor, Hawkins agree on courthouse deadline penalty

Jeff Bobo • Nov 14, 2012 at 10:49 AM

ROGERSVILLE — The question going into Tuesday’s Hawkins County Buildings Committee meeting was whether the late penalty being charged to courthouse renovation contractor Joseph Construction would be $20,000 or $27,000.

By the time the meeting was over, Joseph Construction agreed to buy about $6,000 worth of hand-made lighting fixtures for the 178-year-old courthouse and call it even. Hawkins County will be installing those light fixtures itself.

As of Tuesday’s meeting, the county commission’s Buildings Committee was holding back the final $50,734 payment from the $2 million Hawkins County Courthouse renovation project. The final issue to resolve was the $1,000 per day penalty for missing the contracted “substantial completion date” of March 29.

County Buildings Manager Alana Roberts told the committee that the courthouse received its temporary occupancy permit on April 18, which would make the project 20 days late. She said the full occupancy permit was received April 25, which would make the project 27 days late.

But Joseph Construction President Gary Eastman made it clear during Tuesday’s meeting he wasn’t going to accept the late penalty without a fight.

Eastman argued that the delay was partly due to stairwell building materials arriving later than expected, which he blamed on project architect Tony Moore.

“We didn’t have answers from your architect in a timely manner to order the materials and get it there to meet the schedule,” Eastman said. “We have to get his permission to get things done. If he’s unwieldy or unresponsive that’s not our fault.”

Eastman added, “The architect works for you, and if he’s not responsive it’s your problem. As a matter of fact, we could be asking for liquidated damages on our own side because he held us up through the project on many areas. But we haven’t asked for any of that because Mr. Moore was handicapped and couldn’t get to the job in some situations. He was a little slow at certain times, but we’re not bringing that up at this time because we don’t think it’s necessarily pertinent. The project drug on a little bit because the architect was sick for a while and was not responsive on some of the issues including the staircase.”

Eastman also suggested the delay in receiving an occupancy permit was also due to the county’s failure to install a phone line in the elevator. State law says elevators can’t operate without a phone line so people can call out if they get stuck.

But Eastman argued that the occupancy permit is not related to the contracted substantial completion date.

“The American Institute of Architects (guidelines) is the contract we signed with the county, and their documents stipulate that when the building is useful as to the owner’s intended use, then that’s substantial completion,” Eastman told the committee. “It has nothing to do with certificate of occupancy which can be held up because of telephone lines and other things. That’s a county issued document — certificate of occupancy.

“Substantial completion is when we’re done and you’re ready to move in. Whether you’re not able to move in because of a telephone line doesn’t matter. The building is done for its intended uses, is what the language says.”

County Mayor Melville Bailey wasn’t ready to give up the penalty without a fight either. Bailey suggested that the contractor’s painters held up the project by initially performing a “substandard” job.

“Your painters are the people who got you in trouble with the stairwell and all this other stuff that was delayed,” Bailey said. “They’d be there, and then they’d disappear.”

Eastman replied that even if the paint needed more work, the building was completed for its intended use by the deadline.

Eventually Commissioner John Metz broke the impasse by offering a compromise. The Building Committee and members of the Rogersville Heritage Association weren’t happy with some exterior light fixtures chosen by the architect.

At Metz’s suggestion, Joseph Construction agreed to pay for the new hand-made fixtures, which are more aesthetically compatible with the era the courthouse was built in 1836.

Metz told the Times-News after the meeting he felt that if the completion deadline penalty resulted in a lawsuit, the only winners would be the lawyers.

“Joseph Construction would have forced a lengthy litigation before giving up $20,000, with the potential of the taxpayers getting absolutely nothing in return,” Metz said.

“A lot of the allegations would be based on hearsay, loose timelines and nothing more than a finger-pointing blame game. Since this committee inherited an ongoing project (from a previous administration) I felt we just had to make the best of what we could potentially get by with.”

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