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Butler County Jail project to resume at a hefty price

| Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Two prime contractors on the long-delayed county prison project refuse to return to work until the county signs new contracts promising to compensate them for the delay.

Clista Electric, the prime electrical contractor for the project, and Wayne Crouse, its prime heating, cooling and ventilation contractor, asked the county for about $1 million each, said Tom King, one of the attorneys representing the county for the project.

That amount has been negotiated down, but it's not clear what the elevated pricetag for their work will be, King said. When work was stopped on the $40 million project in December, Clista had about $420,000 in work left to do as part of its original $3.2 million contract, King said. Crouse had about $210,000 in work left to do, as part of its original $2.5 million contract.

Project managers for the prison project -- Fred Bogt at Wayne Crouse, Clyde Stewart at Clista and Kevin Cotter at Rycon -- did not return phone calls to their offices Monday.

A tentative new agreement should be presented at the county commissioners' meeting Wednesday morning, King said.

"It's really not a new contract, it's really a reaffirmation of the old one" -- plus some additional money, he said.

King said the county's main goal for the new agreement -- besides protecting against lawsuits -- is to keep the cost of pacifying the two contractors below about $530,000.

That's the amount the county will receive from Travelers. Travelers is the bonding agency of Cullen, the original general contractor for the project.

The negotiations are the latest in a long string of delays, complications and demands that have slowed the project.

At the end of May, general contractor Rycon Inc. of Pittsburgh was named to replace A.G. Cullen Construction of Sharpsburg, which ended its $21.9 million contract over a payment dispute. Cullen left the project in December.

Travelers, Cullen's bonding agency, chose to replace Cullen with another contractor, but didn't name Rycon until the county commissioners had warned Travelers to come up with a new contractor or risk legal action.

According to last month's estimates, Rycon plans to finish the job for $6.2 million.

But the remaining balance of the contract is only about $5.2 million: $5.7 million the county still expected to spend on the project, minus the $536,000 the county claims as the expense of waiting this long to proceed.

Travelers also is responsible for more than $1 million for contractors who weren't paid and other costs.

That makes for a total of about $2.5 million beyond the projected costs of the project .

Meanwhile, the project is about 90 percent finished, Commissioner James Lokhaiser said.

"There isn't that much more to do," he said. "The key factor here is the electrical contractor," whose work is responsible for "being able to close the jail cells."

The concrete floors were poured unevenly, and have to be ground down in some places too, he said.

Commissioner Dale Pinkerton would not comment on the negotiations, saying, "At the present time, it's all in the attorneys' hands."

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