Bad weather and a subpar performance by several subcontractors have Knoxville’s Rentenbach Constructors on the verge of coughing up $500 a day in liquidation damages to the city for not beating the clock on the “substantial completion” of Memorial Park Community Center.
Officials hoped the new $15 million, 67,000-square-foot facility would have opened its doors by now, but progress is being made for what looks now like a grand opening around Labor Day.
The contract between the city and the company calls for substantial completion — a stage traditionally marked by a building’s readiness to accept furniture and final accoutrements — on April 1. That was nearly five months ago. But there also is a tradition of including a weather buffer in a contract, especially when it come to projects of this size.
Still, Tommy Burleson, the city’s construction agent, said this week that Rentenbach has not met substantial completion and that he was reviewing a letter from the company that asks for an extension.
“Number one, weather,” he said. “Number two, they’ve had a little trouble with subcontractors out there. We set a record for the amount of rain we received in July. Did that impede progress inside? Not really. Should the inside be done? Yes. It’s not ready. They’re just beginning to put the final coat of sealer on the gym floor, but it’s not to the point where they can start moving furniture in.”
Bids were received in September 2010, and the contract was signed a few weeks later. The contract price came in at $11,145,500, which included two alternatives: terrazzo floors and tennis courts with lighting. The total cost, including planning, architectural and engineering services is roughly $15 million.
Ground was broken in October 2010, but unexpectedly cold weather hit the area, and construction slowed at the time. Last spring, wet weather hampered progress on some portions of the center, so it’s not a complete surprise that it may take a little longer than first expected.
The company is allowed a number of days per month, not including “rain days,” which have been tacked on here and there. However, Burleson said he would be consulting with company representatives and the charges could begin soon if an agreement to extend the substantial completion date is not reached.
On April 1, 2010, Johnson City architectural firm Beeson Lusk & Street handed out a “proposed implementation timeline” to city officials which put the ribbon cutting and grand opening at May of this year.
In late September, when the building was about 85 percent under roof, Rentenbach Project Superintendent Robert Halcomb said, “Being under roof takes the weather out of the equation.”
Halcomb was replaced as superintendent this spring. Randy Christiansen, a project manager for Burleson Construction, said it was because of health reasons.
In early January, the Johnson City Press was told the center was roughly 70 percent complete and still on track for an April opening. In February, Burleson said he had met with company representatives and had told them to “give me a real date.”
“They’ve been slippin’ and slidin’ on me,” he said at that time.
On April 25, the Press learned the completion date was July 1.
“Rentenbach is saying they can complete the interior by the end of this month, and they expect to complete the exterior by mid-August,” Christiansen said on July 15.
The Press has toured the facility numerous times to mark progress, and workers are on the move at the site, especially outside where the tennis courts, sidewalks, walkways, roads and grading and final landscaping are being tended to.
Tony Street, with Beeson Lusk & Street, first presented a conceptual visual preview of the center’s interior to the City Commission on Sept. 17, 2010. He has worked with the city on this and other projects, as well as a nearly $1.4 million project now under way off East Main Street known as Phase III or Memorial Park Community Center’s Main Street component.
“In this case, the word ‘contract’ means the specifications,” he said. “Everything Tommy told you is right on. I believe right now the finish date is Aug. 23, but they have made application for additional days because of weather.”
Rentenbach managed construction of a large project at Bristol Motor Speedway that included the addition of 52 luxury sky boxes, rest rooms, concessions and souvenir buildings and three elevator towers. The company also built the 170,000-square-foot Harrah’s Casino on the Indian reservation in Cherokee, which is located in a remote area of North Carolina. It also performed concourse and terminal renovations at Knoxville’s McGhee Tyson Airport and built the University of Tennessee Neyland Stadium parking garage.