Contractor pulled off Highland Hospital job

Daily Planet Wire Service
Saturday September 07, 2002

OAKLAND – Alameda County officials announced Thursday that the contractor working on the new critical care building at the Highland Hospital campus has been pulled off of the job. 

County officials blame the Minneapolis-based contractor, M.A. Mortenson, for repeated problems with the five-story building's heating, ventilation and air-conditioning system. 

The county notified the company of its intentions to find a new contractor for the job last week after several attempts to resolve problems with the system and numerous work delays. Mortenson was removed from the job late Wednesday. 

The $68 million project is 14 months behind schedule. 

“We took this action to ensure that the remaining work is done quickly and correctly,” said Alameda County Supervisor Keith Carson. “We want to make sure this facility is available as soon as possible to the thousands of patients who seek care at Highland each year.” 

Meanwhile, Mortenson has filed a breach of contract suit against the county, said senior vice president Paul Cossette. The lawsuit seeks $10 million the company said it is owed and additional unspecified damages. 

Cossette disputed the county's claims Friday, insisting that the plans for the building's air system were flawed from the start. 

“The allegations made by the county are completely unfounded,” Cossette said. “The problems with the HVAC system are clearly design-related.” 

He said that work has continued on the hospital project even though the county hasn't paid Mortenson since March. He added that the county is dumping the contractor with the job “99.5 percent'' complete. 

Cossette maintains the blame for delays in the job lies with the county. 

“From virtually the first instant we showed up on the job site they started dumping changes on us,” Cossette said. “Virtually every drawing in the documents has been changed, some of the pages have been changed a dozen times.” 

He said the fundamental problem is that the design calls for “pushing a huge amount of air through a duct system that isn't designed for it.” 

Aki Nakao, director of the county's General Services Agency, denied that the system's design is faulty. 

“As far as our opinion goes there is no design flaw,” he said.  

“We believe that the design can work. It just needs to be properly installed.” 

He said the company has been running behind schedule for some time and most recently missed a “self-declared” deadline of June 13. 

Nakao said the project could still be completed by the end of the year although a news release issued by the county said the project would be completed in the spring. 

A new contractor is expected to be chosen in the next week.