Considering all the attention that has been focused on the developer of Rock Chalk Park and the unusual no-bid contract he negotiated with the city of Lawrence, it’s hard to believe that everyone involved with this project doesn’t understand that this project is — and should be — held to a higher standard than the average city construction project.
When taxpayers hear about any variation from the quality standards set for this project, it should be that the standards were exceeded, not that they weren’t quite met — and certainly not that the contractor doing the work willfully ignored a city-hired inspector who told workers not to go forward with a concrete pour because the rebar and other structures to support that concrete didn’t meet city standards.
The combination of a developer who has a history of cutting corners and a city engineering department that appears willing to accept something less than the standards outlined in the development contract doesn’t instill much public confidence in this project.
The Nov. 30 concrete pour that took place despite warnings from city inspectors reportedly is the biggest — but not the first — quality issue the city has encountered with Bliss Sports, a company controlled by Lawrence developer Thomas Fritzel. Although city hall officials say they generally have been pleased with the work, there is reason to wonder whether they are too easily satisfied.
For instance, the development agreement specifically called for 10 inches of concrete on portions of George Williams Way to accommodate buses and other large vehicles that are expected to use the main road leading to the sports complex. Although city inspectors found that the concrete was only 9 or 9.5 inches in most locations, they haven’t required the concrete to be re-poured. Instead, City Engineer David Cronin said he would recommend the city deduct some amount of money from the project to compensate the city for the lower quality work. Will that amount be sufficient to compensate the city if it has to rebuild that street before its expected lifespan?
Cronin also noted that there “have been areas where pavements have come in thicker than expected.” Are we just taking an average here? Having some areas of thicker pavement doesn’t compensate for other areas of thinner pavement.
The engineer tried to downplay the Nov. 30 incident, saying, “The vast majority of the work out there has been acceptable.”
Knowing that the city thinks MOST of the work being done at Rock Chalk Park is OK isn’t particularly comforting. Taxpayers want to hear that ALL of the work out there is not just “acceptable,” but at or above the standards the city set forth.
Earlier this week, city officials said that the concrete poured on Nov. 30 was unacceptable and would have to be replaced. Fritzel wouldn’t concede that the concrete was not poured to standards, but said, if it was, it would be corrected
This situation clearly shows that the city must be vigilant in monitoring this project and rigid in enforcing the standards set forth in the contract. If city officials fail to do that and are willing to accept and pay for substandard work, they may find themselves having to answer to taxpayers for a project that doesn’t live up to its extravagant price tag.