City: Builder 'seriously late' in replacing La. fire stations

By Mark Waller
The Times-Picayune

JEFFERSON PARISH, La. — An already tense relationship between Jefferson Parish government and a contractor building two Metairie fire stations reached a new low Wednesday when the Parish Council called on the company's insurer to complete the buildings and declared the contractor in default on an unrelated road repair job.

In one resolution, the council branded MDI Construction of Elmwood "seriously late" on completing Fire Station 14 and Fire Station 16, both of which were ruined in Hurricane Katrina. In another, it deemed MDI would be in default of its bid to patch storm-damaged streets unless the company signs the contract by the end of this week.

"It's unusual that a low bidder would wait this long" to sign a contract or even return telephone calls from parish officials, said Bert Smith, deputy chief administrative officer for Parish President Aaron Broussard. The council awarded the road work contract in June and gave MDI until Sunday to sign it. "If he does that by the 27th (of September), then everything's fine."

Company owner Chris Darkshani said he intends to meet the deadline. He said it takes time to arrange insurance and other documents to move forward.

"I'm in the process of securing my bid bond and getting my ducks in a row," Darkshani said, bristling at the idea that the parish might hold him in default. "I've got until the 27th. That's all there is to it."

The repairs, amounting to about $250,000, entail replacing a scattered array of cracked or sunken street panels damaged by flooding, fallen trees or debris haulers and truck traffic after Katrina, Streets Director Randy Nicholson said.

On the fire houses, the new Station 14 at 1714 Edinburgh St. in the South Beverly Knoll subdivision in Old Metairie is complete except for several punch list items, Smith said. The council declared it mostly finished Wednesday and approved a $75,425 change order, raising the total cost to $2.6 million.

Parish officials said the new Station 16 at 1900 Kent Ave. southeast of Lafreniere Park is about 60 percent finished. The council approved a $104,595 change order there, raising the project's price tag to $2.8 million.

The contracts were issued in May 2007 for what was supposed to be about 20 months of construction, putting projected completion at January 2009.

While the council alleged MDI is late and approved an agreement with Gray Insurance Co. to wrap up the jobs, Darkshani blamed the delays and the need for change orders on unclear directions from parish officials.

"We've got convoluted specifications and drawings, which necessitated change orders and subsequently delayed the project," Darkshani said. He said MDI ceased working at Station 16 over the summer when the parish failed to pay it for change orders.

Smith said MDI failed to file the invoices needed to grant changes in the work and that the parish and its architects simply disagree with MDI about the scope of the changes.

"How late are they? There is a matter of dispute," Smith said. "The parish and the architects and engineers have a different opinion about how long the delay should have been and the cost of the change orders."

To avoid lawsuits, Smith said, the parish opted against formally declaring MDI in default on the fire station contracts, choosing instead to strike the separate agreement with Gray Insurance to supervise finishing the work.

"We're not interested in litigation that would cause delays," Smith said.

The moves by the council on Wednesday follow several months of disputes between the parish and MDI about details of the fire station work and the quality of completed portions.

"It's a quagmire," Darkshani said.

Copyright 2009 The Times-Picayune Publishing Company

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