Embittered Palm Coast Fires Holland Park Contractor and Takes Over Project Months Behind Schedule
FlaglerLive | September 1, 2016
Holland Park’s 20-month, $4.7 million renovation is so far behind schedule, and still not done, that by the time it opens—it’s still not clear when that will happen—a majority of the Palm Coast City Council that approved the project will have been replaced by a different majority. Milissa Holland, daughter of the late councilman for whom the park is named, was elected mayor of Palm Coast Tuesday, to replace Jon Netts. Robert Cuff was elected councilman, and is expected to take his seat a few weeks early, when the council meets next week.
The park closed in January 2015. It was supposed to have reopened in May, at the latest in June.
Relations between the city administration and the renovation’s contractor, Gainesville-based Tumbleson White Construction Inc., have soured so badly that the city two weeks ago told Tumbleson officials they would be kicked off the project, and that the city would take over. That was the culmination of weeks of attempts to get Tumbleson back on the sort of schedule that could give the city assurance that the project would be completed in a reasonable time frame.
City officials, sensitive to the criticism directed at them over the delays, recast the problem as entirely the fault of the contractor, and themselves as heroes looking out for the city’s budget and local contractors, thus effectively changing the subject: it’s no longer a project behind schedule as much as a city wronged and aggrieved.
The city many weeks ago “put the contractor on notice that we expect them to put together what’s called a recovery schedule,” City Manager Jim Landon said, “and we put the bonding company on notice that if they don’t get it done during that time-frame, we could be taking additional steps. They put together that schedule and said they’d be finished with the project by August 2th.”
“Opps,” went Steven Nobile, one of the council members who will still be a councilman when the project is completed—assuming it is completed before the 2018 election.
“It got to the point where I don’t want another date, so we had our attorney draft a letter to the bonding company saying we’re taking over the project,” Landon told the council Tuesday. He described Holland Park as “our least favorite project right now, to say the least.”
We currently with what we have paid or owed for the work, city has paid out $1.1 million balance on the $4.7 million.
But there’s $250,000 additional costs for landscaping
The city has withheld $250,000 from contractor, with an additional $92,000 in late fees, which are piling up at a rate of $1,000 a day (fees the contractor must pay, in accordance with the contract), leaving the city with $1.2 million still in the budget. That’s the money being used to make sure the subcontractors are paid, and to finish the project.
Landon said the city’s priorities are to complete the project within budget, get the contractor off the property (that hasn’t happened yet), and to make sure all the subcontractors are paid. The rest of the work will be accomplished either by city crews or by new contractors the city will hire.
The council was especially keep on ensuring that subcontractors are paid. Any time a subcontractor says is not getting paid, the city is getting involved—not to pay them directly, but to make sure they do get paid, the city manager said. Landon did not explain how that’s being done.
“That’s extremely important because a lot of them are local contractors,” Landon said. “These are people that their kids go to our schools, they’re on our sports teams, they rely on this kind of work to put food on the table.”
The city may open the park before it’s completed, assuming the playground, the tennis courts and the basketball court are playable and access is kept separate from places still in the works. Meanwhile, the city must balance its tough talk with legal dexterity.
“We are making sure the legal counsel is there so we don’t get into a lawsuit we lose, because this is a $4 million contract,” Landon said. “People don’t walk away from $4 million contract unless you do it right.”
Netts, the mayor, who like the council has been powerless to do much, turned to tough talk of his own: “Our residents have dealt with this delay long enough,” Netts said. “But a little more delay, well, it’s not the end of the world. But I want to make sure we’re under budget, I want to make sure Tumbleson is not walking away with unwarranted profits. We need to go after them, we need to go after the performance bond, the surety bond we’ve got. They’re the ones at fault here, they’re the ones who need to feel a little bit of pain, not our residents, not our budget, and absolutely not our local subcontractors.”
Landon, for his part, not only tried to downplay the severity of the problem, but blamed it on picking a low bidder, which would give him room further on to argue in favor of a non-low-bidder in a future contract. “If you’ve been in the business, it happens, particularly with low bids,” Landon said. “This was a low bid. When you’re in the business this type of thing is really not that unusual.”
Palm Coast Tries to Re-Interpret Landon’s Apparent Overreach
At 2:30 this afternoon, about an hour after this story first posted, Palm Coast’s Cindi Lane, the city’s chief spokesperson, contacted FlaglerLive to say that while this site, the Observer and the News-Journal had all reported that the city was booting the contractor off Holland Park, that was not the case: rather, that city crews would work alongside the contractor. “Firing implies we told them to leave, and we haven’t” Lane said, acknowledging that Landon had spoken of the issue as a severance–or a firing, as reported here.
Landon’s specific words at the outset left no doubt as to his meaning: “Goal Number 2 is we want to get this contractor, Tomlinson, off the site as quickly as possible.”
“When he said it that way he meant finishing the job, and it’s possible that before it’s all said and done, we will fire them,” Lane said. Meanwhile, she said the city is still trying to work with the contractor–again, not the way the issue was portrayed during the meeting on repeated occasions. Landon did speak of finishing certain parts of the job with the contractor: “There’s certain things it doesn’t make any sense they’re in the middle of, they have subcontractors out there working and we’re trying real hard to make, have those be completed,” he said.
Beyond that, however, he quickly added that the city would put in change orders and take over: “Our crews can do it, if we need to hire somebody to do it we’re going to just take over, manage it to get it done. But as quickly as possible and not rely on this contractor to do things that he’s just obviously indicated, has indicated to us by his actions, he just can’t or won’t get it done.”
He pressed the point: “We’ve gone through the steps of giving this contractor plenty of opportunities to do his job. Whether he’s just not capable or not putting the resources, who knows, but it doesn’t matter to me anymore, but he’s not doing the job so we’re going to go a different direction.”
If there was any doubt as to the city’s intentions to essentially fire the contractor, Landon silenced them in his answer to Council Member Steven Nobile, who recapped aloud what he thought he’d just heard: “OK, so we’re going to–let me just summarize in my head make sure we got it,” he said to the manager, “we’re going to let them finish what they’re already in progress of doing, whether it’s them or a subcontractor or what have you, and then we’re going to end any new work with them, on the park at all, they’re going to be gone, and then we’re going to use either in-house or hire contractors to finish, so we’re going to take over management of the completion.”
Landon confirmed: “Yes, the way you described it.”
Clearly, the city was sharply walking back Landon’s comments, likely for legal reasons, and hoping media would follow suit.