Owner's 'punch list'--what and why?

Need for a list by the Owner (Town of Rye) for Public Safety Building before occupancy

Victor Azzi

PREFACE

The Rye Public Safety Building has recently failed a critical but straightforward Fire Code Inspection conducted by the New Hampshire State Fire Marshal.  The building is not occupiable, not functional, and not usable.  The $4,374,000 RPSB sits there like the proverbial “white elephant”.  News?  Surprise??  Not to those who know this RPSB, along with Building and Fire Codes.  It is certainly not a surprise to anybody who understands the critical need for professional, rigorous construction oversight and judicious use of the tool called a “Punch List”.

Having recently attended the meetings of the Rye Board of Selectmen on Monday, June 12 and 26, among many others, it is clear that the Selectmen and their Acting Town Administrator, having circled their proverbial wagons long ago, have now drawn themselves into an ever-tighter circle with regard to the debacle known as the RPSB.  They say they cannot talk about anything related to the RPSB because of "threats of legal action".  That is an old, tired, and familiar ploy.  They also still refuse to talk about the need and role of a “punch list”.  Their meetings and banter reveal many things.  They still refuse to acknowledge the whole long list of costly changes and Change Orders.  The final project cost and tax impact are still unknown and unpredictable.  The completion date is unknown and unpredictable. The construction quality is shoddy, at best. The long-standing cozy bizarre friendship that has existed between the ATA and the Contractor is still not acknowledged.  The cover-up by our trusted “Town Officials” has created a cloak of silence and secrecy, using as an excuse the fraudulent premise that they “cannot talk about it, because it is a legal matter.”  Most important, the town has still not prepared an “Owner’s Punch List” for the RPSB.

In currently on-going hostile adversarial proceedings; with the BOS, the ATA, and Rye  legal counsel (Michael Donovan) representing Rye; Seth Goldfine and legal counsel representing HKT Architects; Ralph Blackington and legal counsel representing Horne Construction; the people of Rye have been placed in jeopardy because the Town is represented by a cast who have already demonstrated, through their malfeasance and deceit, that they know virtually nothing about the RPSB.  To make matters even worse, at great additional cost to the Town, the BOS and ATA have retained a “Construction Claims Consultant (CCC)” to advise them; what they have not told the people is that this CCC was chosen for them and recommended to them by Seth Goldfine/HKT.  They chose not to reveal the prior relationship between CCC and HKT.  It is well known by virtually every informed person that many of the problems with the RPSB were caused by errors and omissions in the Construction Documents produced for the Town by HKT Architects.  If a CCC were needed, the Town, through its own professional “Project Manager and Owner’s Representative,” should have undertaken its own pursuit and retained an objective capable CCC, clearly above reproach and not beholden to HKT or anybody else.

With a professional perspective of five years devoted to this project and more than thirty years in the design and construction business, I feel a need to give a professional assessment of the present state of affairs of the RPSB, including the consequences of the Owner not having an “Owner’s Punch List”.   

HISTORY AND CONTEXT

A number of people, together as the Rye Public Safety Building Committee, worked long and hard to convince the Townspeople that this $4,374,000 building was needed by the Police and Fire Departments.  After much ado, an optimum site was found, property purchased, architectural and engineering design completed, competitive bids received, and the contract awarded for construction.  This building was promised, contractually, by the General Contractor, Horne Construction Company, to be “substantially complete” and occupiable in December 2005, with “liquidated damages” at the rate of $1,000 per day, to be withheld by the Town for failure to achieve that schedule.   

During the construction phase, all three parties agreed that the Town, the Architect, and the General Contractor were each to be represented by one person, each speaking, with signatory responsibilities, for the parties they represented.  The Board of Selectmen requested that I be the “Project Manager and Owner’s Representative,” pro bono, to represent the interests of the Town of Rye in the Design and Construction process.  However, even before the start of construction, and contrary to all ethical norms and contractual agreements, it became obvious that back-channel secret dealings were occurring with the Contractor and the Architect by Town Officials and their Legal Counsel. My repeated oral and written complaints and concerns to the BOS were routinely ignored, ridiculed, and rejected.  I persevered, as I continued to work to protect the Town’s interests.

The BOS, its legal counsel and the ATA had become the apologists for the bad performance of both HKT Architects and Horne Construction.  As a direct result, the Townspeople and Taxpayers have been put in jeopardy.  Because I refused to accept shoddy drawings and specifications, shoddy construction and workmanship, shoddy materials, failure to maintain a credible schedule, and an endless stream of exorbitant change orders and added costs, I was fired from my unpaid position. In the meantime, it was known to all that I had developed a running “Owner’s Punch List” that was already several hundred items long.   This made many people nervous.

If we were to be naive and sympathetic, the behavior and actions of the Town Officials throughout this five-year-long project would be characterized as amateurish, at best.  AT BEST.  A thorough legal investigation by the Judicial Branch of the State of New Hampshire is urgently needed.  An investigative team would include a forensic accountant, a forensic engineer, and a lawyer who knows something about design and construction law.

THE “PUNCH LIST”

As if to further demonstrate their malfeasance and incompetence, the BOS, ATA and Town Attorney apparently seized an opportunity to make things worse, and to further diminish their credibility.  A most preposterous position has been taken (in concert, by Selectmen Mills, Musselman, and Jenness; by Police Chief and ATA Alan Gould; and by Attorney Michael Donovan) that the Owner (the Town of Rye) does not need to create an “owner’s punch list” listing all of the construction flaws, errors, and omissions with the Rye Public Safety Building because the “punch list” is solely the responsibility of the architect, HKT Architects.  Anybody who knows anything about the building construction business knows that it is standard and responsible practice for the “Owner’s Representative and Project Manager” to prepare the Owner’s “punch list”. It is even more irresponsible for the Owner, the Town of Rye, to move into the RPSB building before the “punch list” is not only created, but also implemented.  Based on all information, including recent statements by the Selectmen, to this day, an “Owner’s Punch List” has still not been created, let alone implemented.

Then, finally, the RPSB was brought to a screeching halt.  As the Fire Department was preparing, yet again, to move into the RPSB the weekend of June 17, it was learned on Friday, June 16, that the Rye Public Safety Building had failed to pass a critical but straightforward inspection by the NH State Fire Marshal.  We have known about the problems with the Boiler Room, the Emergency Fire Pump, the need for a two-hour fire-wall separation between the two, and the dangerous and damaging compromises made by the architect and contractor with the boiler and boiler room. This is old news, reported repeatedly for over a year to the Selectmen and the Rye Public Safety Building Committee.  The boiler and boiler room rearrangement were strongly opposed by me, the then-Project Manager and Owner’s Representative.  Among the questions asked then and now:  Why was a different boiler installed from what was chosen by the Owner?   Why did the architect and contractor, with acquiescence from the Rye Fire Chief, proceed to implement this bad choice?  

The lack of a two-hour fire-wall separation between the Boiler Room and the Emergency Fire Pump is but one of hundreds of items that should appear on anybody’s “punch list”.  The Rye BOS, ATA, and Legal Counsel have known of the myriad design problems, including the boiler and boiler room, for well over a year.



Problem of unparallel flag poles on Azzi's list may have been remedied.


Below, in no particular order, is a representative partial list I have been keeping, purposely not complete, of some of the several hundred flaws in the RPSB.  By now, some  flaws may have been remedied; some covered up. Among other things, punch list items affect life safety, function, structural integrity, first cost, maintenance cost, operations cost, durability, warranties, aesthetics, sensitivity to the neighbors and the neighborhood, etc…

Many flaws are caused by poor workmanship, inferior and substituted materials, poor or absent oversight, lack of care and standards by the builders during construction.  Some flaws are the result of errors and omissions in the drawings and specifications prepared (and not corrected) by the Architect, and a lack of  professional adherence to quality building standards by the Architect.

A PARTIAL RPSB PUNCH LIST


EPILOGUE

The complete list is available to those who would properly request it.  I have already invested more than 4000 free-to-the-town professional hours in this project.  Anyone who knows the meaning and role of a “punch list” knows that a paper list (sample above) needs to be reviewed in the context of an on-site, hands-on, line-by-line scrutiny of the details, clip-board in hand, going room to room, inside and out.  It is not an exercise for those who do not want to get their hands dirty, or who seldom venture from their home or desk.

It has still not registered with the “Town Leaders” that it is standard construction-industry practice that a complete Owner’s Punch List be created, and implemented by the General Contractor, BEFORE the building is occupied by the Owner.

And for the residents and taxpayers of Rye, you should ask “What are we getting for our $4,374,000 (and counting)?”  And, “What’s in it for the people of the Town of Rye?”



July, 2006


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