Augusta commissioners on Tuesday rejected an $836,288 change order connected to fire safety at the new Trade, Exhibit and Event Center, a move that could potentially slow the center’s completion and opening.
Commissioners Grady Smith and Wayne Guilfoyle joined commissioners Alvin Mason and Bill Lockett in voting against the change, which failed 4-5-1. Commissioner J.R. Hatney abstained from voting.
The bulk of the order is a $399,083 request to upgrade mechanical and electrical equipment “to increase the smoke exhaust system from approximately 2.5 air changes per hour to approximately eight air changes per hour, per Marriott Corporate request,” according to an Oct. 17 request from Jacques Ware of Heery International/Dukes Edwards & Dukes, two firms employed by Augusta to oversee construction projects.
The order itself was prepared by contractor R.W. Allen, which is building the project. Other changes in the order include additional storage rooms, upgraded ceiling power, $260,403 in changes based on comments from a “building review department and fire marshal,” kitchen plumbing changes and various other adjustments down to $16,050 for different toilet accessories, according to the request.
“This was signed off October of 2011, and now we’re into February of 2012, what took you so long?” Lockett asked City Administrator Fred Russell.
Russell said that since October, he and others had been “negotiating” with Marriott International. “After a fairly frustrating attempt to do that, we brought it forward to you,” he said.
The air change system designed by architect tvsdesign and mechanical engineers meets Georgia requirements. It does not meet Marriott’s higher standards, and the hotel chain won’t bend, tvsdesign architect Emory Leonard told commissioners.
The main issue raised by commissioners is why they didn’t learn of the changes, which bring the project’s total price to $30.1 million, any sooner.
“We are getting facts after the fact,” Hatney said.
After the meeting, Smith said he was “tired of getting information at the ninth hour.”
“Why is it that we hear at the ninth hour that Marriott wants four times what the state calls for at an exorbitant expense?” he said.
He said he will bring the order up for discussion at an upcoming committee meeting and doesn’t expect the delay to slow work on the building.
Smith said he would like to sit down with Marriott, TEE Center operator Augusta Riverfront LLC, builders and architects about the changes and hopes a better-priced compromise solution can be reached.
“I don’t want to just rubber-stamp everything,” Smith said. “We bend over too easily with the taxpayers’ dollars.”
Paul Simon, the president of Augusta Riverfront LLC, questioned the commission’s judgment, particularly with regard to a fire safety issue.
“I think it’s a shame what they did,” he said.
The firm, already under contract with the city to run the TEE Center and under a franchise agreement with Marriott, has ties to the management of Morris Communications, which owns The Augusta Chronicle.
A point no one raised Tuesday that Simon emphasized after the meeting was that the commission voted to “fast-track” the project when approving it several years ago.
On a regular construction schedule, all details are plans are worked out in advance. On a fast track, some details are expected to be worked out along the way, and “you sometimes create situations that occur later that you have to adjust for, like this one,” Simon said.