San Jacinto plaza has had many ups and downs in its history, but frankly the biggest down has come about since the former city council ordered its remodel. In spite of the millions of dollars allocated to the project this remake was doomed by ineptness of those in charge of the project, the City of El Paso. While blame for trees dying, roots rotting, and other things like no toilets for the public (let the people go to the bathroom at Anson 11?, sure), the reality is that the engineering plans for the park were rebuffed by the hired architect who hails from Southern California. Now the problem isn’t that the contractor can’t do the work, it’s that the plans are changing all the time but you won’t guess who’s doing the changes. Let’s begin with the original plan. Seems like everyone was for updating the placita, even if that meant moving the “Mexicans” out to the hinter land, aka down the street by the public library. By the way there isn’t a bathroom facility there either but there’s the library’s and it gets so much traffic they had to hire security. So back to the beginning…it all started going wrong from the get go, as bids for the project were for the most part over budget. Except for one and that was BasicIDIQ who bid just at or around what the engineering department figured. The other two bidders were from what rumor has it, about $3 million higher, at around $7 million. The funny thing, and I’m not laughing, is that the other two bidders were within dollars of each others bid which if true should have raised red flags. Anyway, so the bid was won and then they realized that they were bidding several million below the other two and panic had to have set in. What did they miss? Where did they go wrong, so back to the plans, a double and triple check and voila, they came back and said there was nothing wrong that they (Basic IDIQ) could find apparently and they began work. What was the reason the other bids were so high? Might turn out that the other two knew the politics of doing business with a city project, a public project and they hedged their bid to allow for the problems that would, and have, popped up.
The winning contractor began work and then the crap started to fester up. The City engineering plans and those of the hired Architects were way off from each other and from design concepts. The Los Angeles based firm was making plans to spend tax dollars on stuff from Europe like benches, table tennis tables (all made of concrete but very expensive) and the city engineers were shocked. So what did the city leaders do? The voted to support the architects. Engineering was banned and the plans that were approved shelved in order to get the job done by this expensive L. A. firm.
The plans for the utilities were incomplete and the contractor found itself hitting electric, water and gas lines…maybe even a few large cables that could’ve shut down California’s ATM’s with one quick whack. Work was halted and the city reacted by telling the contractor to keep going. They didn’t. They saw the probability of some serious damage if the plans weren’t right, and they weren’t right.
Meanwhile a new council came in and a new city manager and they wanted to review the plans, again. It was during this time that the contractor found the architects plans called for killing the trees, shrubs, and palms if they followed the plans. Instead they called in an arborist and it was clear that proceeding would have killed all the trees not just a few. Redesigned and pissing off the architect the new council now positioned itself as the official voice and manager of the project. Change orders were coming in from city rep Cortney Nilland, the expert designer and chief manager, and let me tell you Lilly Limon didn’t like that at all, since Limon is the teacher, the advocate for the poor, the downtrodden, and the bladder filled. “Engineer” Nilland forgot the bathrooms and so a fight ensued. You have to remember folks, no bathrooms were approved to begin with and they were never in the design. But don’t tell Limon that. After all she knows a full bladder. So work was again stopped. Who got the blame? The contractor. Then the concession stand design and actual structural design wouldn’t work. Why? The awning weight and aerodynamics would rip out the poles holding it in place, a potentially big problem given the winds of April and May. Who designed those? The architect of course. Not an engineer, an architect. Who got the blame for not wanting to build something that wasn’t right? The contractor. Who got blamed for the delays? The contractor. And it gets worse. KVIA ran a non-story on Thursday May 7 about delays and never even got to the inside war between Nilland, City engineering, the architect, the contractor, and the City Manager. They apparently missed the part where the cables that will support the cover over the Legartos is coming from Germany (and final design approval wasn’t gotten until early April 2015). Apparently the U.S. can’t wind wire to specs so we get the high tension cable from Germany. So this delay is being blamed, once again, on the contractor and not City engineering who finally got the plan approved so late in the game. Once these high tension cables are put up it will require maintenance on at least an annual basis because if not the cover could collapse over the alligator sculpture. I wonder if they’ll need to bring in the German contractor to do that work, and how much will that cost. That and the final design for the electrical placement has put the contractor on a day by day “wonder what next” situation.
If you think that’s all wait until Ansons 11 and the surrounding businesses see the high intensity lighting called for by the architect. From what I have been told it doesn’t meet the dark skies ordinance, but hey, they’re the city and the city doesn’t have to live by the rules. No, KVIA did a lousy job getting to the real story of the delays. Oh, by the way, woodpecker has a scoop: the original plan by City Manager Joyce Wilson said the project would be done by September….of 2015. So it looks like with all the crazy things surrounding the project it still might be in on time and on budget for the contractor, not the architect. Woodpecker predicts that architectural firm will run up the bills as a payback for being fired and rehired. After all they have a history of government work doing exactly the same thing over and over. Why we tend to think expensive means quality I’ll never know.
So where are we today? Nearly the same place with delays now occurring because the contractor has plans changed on the whims of Cortney Nilland. Again city a council rep knows construction and engineering and be damned if you can’t do what she says. Who gets the rap? The contractor. Meanwhile there’s a firm that is doing millions of dollars of work for the city that wants to be “involved” and “save” San Jacinto. JAR Concrete, the same fellows doing all the ADA sidewalk work. How? By getting the city manager to authorize them to take over the project. Seems like JAR and Tommy became fast pals. Is it legal? Probably not, but why let little things like contracts get in the way. So where are we? No peeing for sure, and some change orders for the contractor…and aside from Nilland the project manager, the architects are back on the job after getting a reported $50,000 “fee” for restarting what they were fired for doing a few months back. Cost overruns? Maybe. Finished product? Not yet. More bickering? Yep. The woodpecker would suggest to the city manager to work with the contractor of record, get city councilors to back away and not micro manage the project and get the damn thing finished. For the contractor? A tough lesson to learn and perhaps the last time we’ll see this firm bid for city projects.