In a development that could further postpone completion of the Capitol Visitor Center, stone deliveries to the project have been delayed for months, the apparent result of an ongoing legal battle between two subcontractors.
Government Accountability Office officials testifying before the Senate Appropriations subcommittee on the legislative branch Thursday said that delivery of sandstone, a key material in construction of the 588,000-square-foot subterranean facility, has fallen well behind schedule.
“The suppliers haven’t met their production for months,” testified Terrell Dorn, GAO’s assistant director of physical infrastructure issues.
Similarly, Architect of the Capitol Alan Hantman acknowledged, “The delivery of stone … does continue to be below expected levels.”
According to a CVC official, the delays are the result of an ongoing legal dispute in federal court between Pennsylvania-based Annandale Sandstone and the Wisconsin-based Quarra Stone Co., the companies responsible for supplying and fabricating stone for the project, respectively.
Both firms are subcontractors of the Manhattan Construction Co., the primary firm working on the second phase of the visitor center project, including utility work and completion of interior spaces.
While the legal case proceeds, CVC Project Director Bob Hixon said the agency is seeking a certification from the court that will require the companies to produce the stone.
CVC officials attended a July 8 hearing in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania to press their case, Hixon said.
“We’re very concerned about the delivery of the stone,” Hixon said, recalling the agency’s statement to the court.
He added: “If they cannot certify and deliver on time then there are other options to be evaluated.”
Nevertheless, GAO officials suggested that the setback could further postpone the expected opening of the visitor center.
“Unless mitigated, this delay, in turn, could delay AOC’s estimated September 15, 2006, opening date,” GAO officials stated in written testimony.
According to GAO, the project’s schedule — already nearly two years behind its original estimate — could be delayed by an additional three weeks, pushing back the center’s scheduled opening date to Oct. 19, 2006.
The affected portions of the site would include the East Front, where scheduled work has been pushed back by 24 days, as well as some interior masonry, which has faced lesser delays.
“In addition, some other interior stonework that is not generally on a critical path, such as the installation of wall stone in the Great Hall, has slipped by about 4 months since April because of stone shortages according to AOC,” GAO found, referring to the facility’s main public area.
CVC officials said they are addressing the existing shortfall in stone by working to resequence other projects with available resources.
“We try to keep the stonemasons busy and working in other areas,” CVC spokesman Tom Fontana said Friday, later adding, “We’re trying to make up in other areas what we can’t do in the Great Hall.”
Fontana noted that while the AOC has received much of the stone required, several “key elements” have not yet been fabricated.
“The nature of the stone work is that there are some pieces that are critical to the installation process,” Fontana said.
He compared the CVC stonework to the process of tiling a kitchen floor: “You can’t start at four different corners and hope you come together in the middle somewhere.”
Although AOC officials asserted the stonework could be put back on schedule if it is able to procure larger shipments of stone, GAO questioned whether such a plan would further increase the project’s price tag.
“Mitigating this potential delay in East Front stone installation could increase the government’s costs if the mitigation involves, among other actions, expediting the installation to recover lost time,” GAO stated.
CVC officials have previously estimated that the thousands of pounds of marble and sandstone quarried for the project in Pennsylvania and Tennessee will cost about $35 million.
During Thursday’s hearing — the third in a series of month reviews by subcommittee Chairman Wayne Allard (R-Colo.) — GAO officials also raised concerns that the Architect could incur added expense if the agency attempts to open the facility to the public by Sept. 15, 2006, the project’s current deadline.
“We can’t say it’s impossible for them to meet this September 15th target, but at what cost?” said Dorn.
According to GAO officials, the Manhattan Construction Co. had finished only 11 of 17 milestones — detailed projects such as masonry work in specific areas, for example — that were slated for completion prior to Thursday’s hearing. Only three of those projects were concluded on schedule.
Manhattan Construction “missed the 14 remaining milestones for such reasons as unforeseen site conditions, design problems, and more time being taken to complete some other work than expected,” GAO’s testimony states.
Although AOC officials have suggested that measures could be taken to return the project to its September schedule, Bernard Ungar, GAO’s director of Physical Infrastructure Issues, questioned whether accelerating that work would be economical.
“In AOC’s view, the contractor can recover the time lost in completing these milestones, as well as make up for delays in completing interior stonework, by such means as using temporary equipment, adding workers, or resequencing work, although using temporary equipment or adding workers will also increase the project’s costs,” GAO’s testimony states.
Similarly, GAO cited concerns over costs related to opening the main visitor center facility — including a cafeteria, bathrooms and orientation theaters — several months before House and Senate expansion space flanking each end of the structure are completed.
“While it is not necessarily unusual to use a facility for its intended purpose before all construction work is complete, we believe that it will be important for Congress to know what additional costs AOC expects to incur to open CVC by September 15, 2006, so that Congress can weigh the costs and benefits of opening the facility then rather than at a later date,” GAO written testimony states.
Among the potential costs would be interim measures to provide for emergency exits to visitors in the case of a fire or other emergency.
Although AOC officials have outlined those costs at approximately $1 million, Hixon described that figure as a “plug number” in its budget.
‘“There is no basis for the number — it was simply put there,” Hixon said.
While GAO similarly noted delays in the construction of the utility tunnel that will provide chilled water and steam to the CVC, Ungar suggested that costs to hasten the project would offset expenses caused by delay, such as the need for temporary dehumidification equipment within the visitor center.
“Given … the importance to the rest of the project of having the utility tunnel operational as soon as possible, AOC has asked the project team to explore options for accelerating the completion of the work necessary to begin the tunnel’s operations,” GAO’s testimony states.
The Architect acknowledged in June that work related to D.C. Water and Sewer Authority-owned pipelines had stalled work on the project, located beneath East Capitol Street, pushing back its operational date from October 2005 to March 2006.
“We agree with AOC that delays in making this tunnel operational could have significant adverse effects on other project elements and that priority attention should be given to this area. Accelerating work may be cost-beneficial in this case,” GAO stated.
While the Architect has estimated the CVC’s price tag will reach $517 million by the time it is completed, GAO predicts the cost could be anywhere from $522 million to as high as $559 million.
“[A]s we have previously indicated, AOC will likely need as much as $37 million more than it has requested to cover risks and uncertainties to complete the project,” GAO stated, noting that between $5 million and $15 million of those funds may be needed in fiscal 2006.
AOC officials, who are expected to provide Congressional appropriators with an updated budget estimate in September, defended their fiscal 2006 request, which would provide $36.9 million in additional funds.
“The amount of money we requested for FY ’06 would be adequate,” said Hixon. While House lawmakers provided the exact amount in their version of the spending bill, Senate appropriators allocated $42 million for the project, citing GAO’s recommendations.
In the meantime, Hantman said that his office will request to use general funds to initiate a search for an executive director for the center, although the House and Senate have yet to determine who will operate the CVC.