Contractor Resumes Work on Oklahoma City Library

Thu May 01, 2003 - West Edition
Emilie Haulenbeek

Despite an ongoing $1.7-million lawsuit, the contractor building the Oklahoma City Library has agreed to finish construction, now that the city has paid it $928,816. Buckner and Moore Inc. (BMI), the general contractor, halted construction on the nearly finished building in March 2002 when the city disputed the type of exterior panels the contractor had purchased and refused to pay.

When one of BMI’s subcontractors purchased the panels, both BMI and the subcontractor understood the order was for foamed-in-place panels, as specified by the architect. When laminated panels arrived, however, the subcontractor began applying them before anyone realized a mistake had been made.

“They didn’t discover the panels were laminated until a lot of them had been put in place,” said Oklahoma City Municipal Counselor Bill Burkett.

The disputed panels were placed in storage and the city refused to pay for the laminated panels. Construction was halted, and didn’t resume until this week, following a judge’s ruling in December that the panels did meet project specifications.

Robert Magrini, attorney for BMI, said the contractor was caught in the dispute between the city and Benchmark, the supplier.

“The prime contractor and installer were not at fault” Magrini stated. “As you know, Benchmark claimed – and the court agreed – that the panels supplied to the project satisfied the specifications. The city took a contrary position. We were somewhat caught in the middle.”

Burkett said the city decided to pay BMI to resume construction because it was the only reasonable decision. Completion is already overdue on the $21.5-million facility.

“The option was to make them take down the panels that they had, and put up the other ones, which would be much more time consuming, much more expensive and the court told us that these panels meet the specs and we should accept them,” the attorney said. “We’re going to use the panels, it’s just a matter of getting the library built. We’ve got the concern about protecting the building from the elements. The best way is to get the panels up.”

Meanwhile, the city has appealed U.S. District Judge Vicki Miles-LaGrange’s ruling.

“We’ve appealed that because the issue remains as to who is responsible for the damages due to delay. The contractor says that’s the city – the court says they met the specifications and issuing the stop order was wrong,” Burkett said.

Magrini believes the decision will stand on appeal.

“The city’s position is not correct. The city and its consultants rejected panels that the court has determined satisfied the specifications. The city is financially responsible for all resulting damages,” he stated. “Since the specifications clearly allowed the use of laminated panels, I believe the court’s decision should and will be affirmed on appeal.”

There remain questions about whether the laminated panels, which have been in storage for about a year, are still viable. Project architects will be examining the panels to determine if they can be placed.

Asked whether the situation has been a hardship on his company, BMI Project Manager Brett Bailey said no.

“It has delayed the completion,” Bailey said. “I wouldn’t call it a setback.”

With the wheels of construction barely rolling again, Bailey hasn’t yet determined a new completion date for this four-story, 110,00-square foot building. The company does anticipate having the project finished by the end of 2003.