Originally created 12/16/03

ANIC pushes building deadline



ANIC's finance committee will meet Wednesday with Pat Mathis to set a firm completion date for the project and adopt a set of monetary penalties for any work completed past the deadline. Current penalties of $100 a day have never been enforced.

The governing board of the Augusta Neighborhood Improvement Corp. agreed Monday to make a contractor give officials a set-in-stone completion date for a building that is nearly two months behind schedule.

Board members also agreed to strengthen the penalty for failure to meet the deadline.

Members of the nonprofit housing agency's board said Pat Mathis Construction of Savannah, Ga., should be held to a higher, stricter standard after months of construction delays. And keeping close tabs on construction of the Laney-Walker commercial building will be necessary to avoid future setbacks now that the contractor has defaulted on a work agreement for the building.

"As close to completion as we are, we ought to be able to do it if everybody watches," said ANIC attorney Pete Fletcher.

Board members, obviously concerned about their responsibility to ANIC, said Monday they also will hold themselves to a higher standard, making plans to adopt a set of bylaws to replace what has been a standing gentleman's agreement.

Pat Mathis Construction defaulted on its work agreement with ANIC after action last week by the Georgia Insurance Commissioner's office, attorney Pete Fletcher told the board. The insurance commissioner issued a cease and desist order against Global Bonding Co. of Las Vegas, the surety bond company that was supposed to be backing the Laney-Walker project.

But Insurance Commissioner John Oxendine has said Global is little more than a scam operation that targets minority- and women-owned contracting businesses.

Surety bonds are supposed to ensure pay and performance for completion of a construction project. What Pat Mathis bought was not a bond at all, officials have said.

Ms. Mathis said Monday she intends to demand repayment of the bond premium and return the money to ANIC.

But without a surety bond on the project, she is in default of her work contract with ANIC. Securing another surety bond would delay construction for several more months, Ms. Mathis said.

"It would probably be 90 days or so before we completed an application process," she said. "By the time we got a bond placed, the job would be finished."

Board members opted Monday for the faster solution - to continue without a bond. Starting over with a new contractor, the building's architect said, would be a huge risk.

The original completion deadline was in September.

"It gets extremely complicated, especially without a bonding company, now, it is extremely dangerous in my opinion," architect Nick Dickinson told the board.

The building is 70 percent complete, Mr. Dickinson said.

On Wednesday, board members will begin to draft a set of bylaws that prevents money from being approved administratively for payout without the board's approval.

Earlier this year, ANIC President and CEO Robert Cooks awarded $42,621 of the corporation's money toward Global Bonding's $59,820 premium - a change order that was made without the knowledge of ANIC board members.

Looking back, Mr. Cooks said he wouldn't have made that change order again.

"We should have done better due diligence," he said.

Board members said better bylaws would help avoid a similar administrative oversight in the future.

Reach Heidi Coryell Williams or Sylvia Cooper at (706) 724-0851.