IOWA CITY — Temporary fixtures and facades for a November 2016 open house at the new University of Iowa Stead Family Children’s Hospital cost nearly $300,000, according to information obtained by The Gazette in a public records request.
The $360 million hospital wasn’t as far along as administrators had let on, making the facade necessary.
Days after tens of thousands toured the hospital during the Nov. 5-6 open house, some of the building’s temporary ceilings, carpet — even a sprinkler system — came down.
Then, less than two weeks before the planned December opening, UI officials announced the hospital wouldn’t start seeing patients until January or February due to construction delays.
At the time, UI Health Care spokesman Tom Moore said administrators were working with project manager Gilbane Building Co. to “more fully understand the reasons for the delay” on the project.
The hospital admitted its first patients in late February 2017, even as work continued on several unfinished floors and the university grappled over payment and project obligations with several of the dozen-plus contractors.
To date, the university has paid $92,311 of the $295,744 it spent on the temporary carpet, ceilings, partitions and sprinkler system for the open house.
“The remaining amounts are in dispute,” Moore told The Gazette.
Disagreements over payment and project work have plagued the Children’s Hospital project, which used a “multi-prime contracting arrangement” with more than 25 different bid packages and trade contracts, according to a critical 2015 audit conducted nearly three years after construction began and two years before the hospital opened.
“This contracting strategy is not ideal for fast-track projects such as the Children’s Hospital and level of anticipated change orders,” according to the audit.
Because the university started building the project before design was complete, design changes were rampant, the audit found.
In February 2017, around the time the hospital opened, The Gazette reported the project had seen 868 approved change orders worth $55.5 million.
The size of the 14-story building — from the start of the project to the end — grew from 371,600 to 507,200 square feet. Its cost swelled from $270.8 million to $360 million, an amount that appears to be rising with the university ensnared in more contractor disputes.
An arbitration panel recently awarded one of the hospital’s contractors — Cedar Rapids-based Modern Piping Inc. — nearly $21.5 million for incurring “substantial expense in performing additional work for which Iowa was clearly responsible to pay.”
More than $4.6 million of that award relates to the university’s Hancher Auditorium project. The final decision allows for interest to continue accruing on some owed amounts, while also stripping UI’s future rights to assert backcharges against Modern Piping.
UI attorneys initially fought the award but told a judge last month that UI President Bruce Harreld has reached “an agreement in principle” to settle with the contractor, although the deal hasn’t yet been submitted to the court or made public.
The university additionally is in arbitration related to a lawsuit with another contractor, Merit Construction. And, of 25 contracts related to the project, just nine are closed — with final payment made — more than a year after the hospital opened.
Open contracts remain so for a variety of reasons, according to Moore.
“Open means not all obligations have been met in accordance with the contract,” he said. “This could be for a number of reasons, including disputes, incomplete work, project documentation, etc.”
Among open contracts listed in a document provided to The Gazette, some still need to submit drawings, samples and data required to receive LEED accreditation — meaning the work meets specific energy and environmental design standards. Others have “punch-list” items to complete or revised drawings to submit.
As for costs incurred on temporary fixtures for the open house, Moore said, some of the materials will be repurposed “as applicable” in other parts of the hospital. That, he said, “effectively defrays some of the cost attributed to the public open house.”
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