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Contractor could be liable for late parking deck finish
Jonathan Sarmiento installs lighting inside the downtown Gainesville parking deck Monday afternoon. According to the contractor, Optum Construction, rain is to blame for construction of the deck being behind schedule.

It is still uncertain whether the contractor building Gainesville’s new downtown parking deck will be held liable for not completing the deck on time.

The deck, which was originally scheduled to be complete by the end of July, may not be complete until well into October, representatives from Optum Construction told the Gainesville City Council last week. Optum is the company responsible for the deck’s construction.

Rain delays have been blamed as the biggest delay in construction of the four-level deck, but city officials say rain delays were factored into the construction contract Optum entered into with the city.

With no extensions granted from the city, the parking deck should have been complete by July 21 — a completion date that factored in 51 possible days of rain, said the city’s project manager, Jarrett Nash.

Optum President Ed Maxwell told the Gainesville City Council last week that because of 51 days of rainfall and nine days of other delays, the deck would not be usable until Oct. 8. Even then, the deck’s elevators will not be installed, he said.

City Council members signed Optum up for the job last year because the contractor was the lowest bidder with the shortest construction timeline.

When the company responded to a request for proposals on the parking deck’s construction last year, the contractor bid the job at $6.146 million and said it could have the job complete in 184 days, said Tim Collins, the assistant director of Gainesville’s Public Utilities Department.

Two other contractors placed bids on the job for $200,000 more and proposed construction schedules between 185 days and 298 days, Collins said.

A letter to the deck’s architect, Steve Hill, from Optum President Ed Maxwell said the construction company originally proposed completing the deck in eight months. The letter, which was copied to Nash and the City Council, stated that the city asked for the construction timeline to be shortened to six months.

"During preconstruction meetings, Optum Construction stated that with good weather this rushed schedule could be met," Maxwell wrote.

But now, the deck is nearly three months behind schedule, and council members who were once excited to sign on the local contractor expressed their disappointment last week.

Mayor Myrtle Figueras expressed concern about the effect of the drawn-out construction time on downtown businesses. Since January, only one lane has been open on Main Street from Spring Street to Broad Street, and downtown parking has been limited without the old deck. Councilman Danny Dunagan asked for an explanation of the delayed completion.

Optum’s project manager, Matt Magnus, told the City Council 51 days of rain has caused significant delays in construction, saying the contractor had "just been killed with rain."

But Nash said that since construction started on the deck on Jan. 19, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration only has recorded 39 days where at least one-tenth of an inch of rain has fallen on the area. Maxwell could not be reached for a response.

Nash said he still is not sure whether the contractor’s delay is justifiable.

"I can’t say they’re over or under the built-in rain days, but I will say that the rain occurred at probably the worst time for the project that it could have," Nash said.

Collins said city officials still are looking into the issue and that with the increased rainfall, city officials knew as early as spring that it would be difficult for the deck to be completed on time.

"I think the contractor realized then also that it was going to be late," Collins said. "Weather really hasn’t been a factor since spring to any large extent. It has somewhat been a factor on certain days."

The contract between the city and Optum allows the city to charge Optum for any out-of-pocket costs the city incurs and damages suffered because of the delayed completion date, Collins said.

"On this project, damages could be a fairly wide term, but I don’t think we should talk in specifics about what that would be," Nash said.

As of Friday, Collins and Nash said they had not evaluated the costs the city had incurred because of the delays in construction. Nash said the process will mean negotiating with Optum.

"There is a cost factor, but for us to try to put a number on it or anything today would not be fair to us or them," Collins said.