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Orange County

Airport Firehouse Work to Resume

A big flop with the first contractor now means hiring another, costing more money and time.

October 22, 2003|Jean O. Pasco | Times Staff Writer

Construction of a ballyhooed fire station at John Wayne Airport will resume -- to be completed about 18 months behind schedule and $2.7 million over budget -- after selection of a new contractor Tuesday by the Orange County Board of Supervisors.

A $6-million contract to complete the state-of-the-art station was awarded to Hensel Phelps Construction Co., a national builder based in Colorado and with offices in Irvine. The Federal Aviation Administration previously agreed to pay 80% of the cost.

The construction job was initially given in April 2002 to JM Contracting of Downey for nearly $4 million. But JM completed only a fraction of the work before walking off the job, airport officials said.

County officials said JM failed to perform satisfactorily, didn't pay subcontractors, failed to maintain required insurance and had its contractor's license suspended by the state. The county had paid about $680,000 for what it considered acceptable work under the contract but refused to pay for the rest.

"I think [JM] just got in over their heads," Airport Director Alan Murphy said.

Company principals Steve Jundi and Subhi Murad couldn't be reached Tuesday for comment.

The new airport rescue and firefighting station will be nearly twice the size of the current firehouse, which doesn't meet earthquake standards. The nearly 15,000-square-foot building will stand near the control tower, just north of the old building.

Because of the construction problems, the initial completion date of June 4 has been pushed back to mid-December 2004.

None of the construction problems was mentioned publicly in August, when federal aviation officials, who also knew of the problems, announced that they would pay for most of the work. The planned facility was lauded by U.S. Secretary of Transportation Norman Y. Mineta as a way "to help John Wayne Airport maintain the highest levels of safety in the years ahead."

At that point, the original contractor had been off the job for eight months, with only an abandoned concrete slab and some electrical work showing.

The county has sued First National Insurance Co. of America, which provided performance and payment bonds for the project. A trial on the lawsuit is scheduled for the spring.

Under the county's contract with JM, the company -- through the bonding company -- can be assessed $1,500 a day in penalties for every day the project lingers past the June 4 completion date.

About $510,000 worth of work must be redone when construction resumes, airport officials said.

Because of the construction problems and deadlines to secure federal funds, the county selected Hensel Phelps on an emergency basis without seeking construction bids.

Hensel Phelps had completed the airport's baggage system upgrade "and did a fantastic job," Murphy said. Work on the fire station should resume next month, he said.

Airport officials have been sensitive to construction problems since the county filed a massive lawsuit in 1990 against Taylor Woodrow Inc. over alleged faulty workmanship in the airport parking structures. A second contractor completed the work. The county ultimately settled its lawsuit against Taylor Woodrow, and a countersuit, by paying the company $9.6 million for work successfully completed -- a fraction of what the company wanted.

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