Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Why Norco's Courthouse is $2 Million Over Budget

"Give us $43 million, and we'll come in at that or under."

That was what then President Judge Freederg piously promised, in transcribed testimony, when he sought Northampton County Council's approval for his courthouse expansion, back in 2001. Court Administrator James Onembo made the same pledge, too. He told a skeptical council, no less than three times, that there would be no cost overruns.

They must have had their fingers crossed.

County controller Steve Barron, in a report to county council, reveals that the actual cost of this project, as of May, is $45,083,563, roughly $2 million more than was originally budgeted. Construction manager Alvin H. Butz has been paid $4.6 million for its oversight, $1.2 million more than expected. Architect RicciGreene has also been paid about $1 million more than originally projected.

How did this happen? Yo yo yo, what's the dillyo?

According to Barron, the project was "not adequately monitored by the County." Most of you probably figured that, but how did that happen? The county's engineer, Steve DeSalva, has a pretty good explanation, and Barron attaches it to his report.

DeSalva claims the "protracted length of the contract" caused construction management and engineering fees to balloon dramatically. This could have been minimized had Butz used a standard construction tool, CPM (Critical Path Method), which enables a construction manager to identify untimely completion of one work activity and its effect on everything else. Butz also failed to set completion dates on contracts, which "provided a disincentive for contractors to complete their work in a timely fashion." There was no Clerk of the Works to ride herd over the architect and Butz. That's a role that Onembo and DeSalva, by default, eventually assumed.

DeSalvo also notes something he calls "design oversight," which sounds like a polite way of saying the architect screwed up. This occurred both in the roofing contract and the rotunda. It ended up costing the county about $700,000. Amazingly, the architect still wants $79,000 from the county.

So basically, the reason this courthouse expansion is $2 million over budget is because Butz and the Architect were milking the job and the county never had someone looking over their shoulders until Stoffa was able to steal DeSalva from Bethlehem.

You can read Steve Barron's report, which includes DeSalva's memo, here. The Morning Call's Joe Nixon also has a detailed account.

25 comments:

Anonymous said...

Where was Ed Boscola during this process?

Anonymous said...

Kudos to Steve barron for doing a damn good job. Where was his predesecessor Schimmel during this mess, running his business from his County Office?

Anonymous said...

If my management team squandered $2M of my shareholders' money, we'd all be fired. Will any of the fiscal watchdogs in the administration and on council suffer the same fate? Yeah right.

Anonymous said...

Stoffa is responsible for most of the overruns.

Bernie O'Hare said...

Where was Ed Boscola during this process?

On automatic pilot.

Kudos to Steve barron for doing a damn good job.

Agreed.

Stoffa is responsible for most of the overruns.

Wrong. Stoffa actually stopped the mess. He hired DeSalva. He got rid of Butz. Before he arrived, Butz was allowed to run wild. The only person trying to keep a handle on things was court administrator Jim Onembo. I misconstued his actions as meddling, but he actually was doing his best - as a nonengineer - to make sure the job got done. Once Stoffa arrived and realized what was going on, Butz was out the door. DeSalva, who is an engineer, did a great job as de facto clerk of works.

Anonymous said...

Again County Council, throughout the process, the watchdogs of the administration, dropped the ball.

Bernie O'Hare said...

Again County Council, throughout the process, the watchdogs of the administration, dropped the ball.

I think that's largely true. Specific members do ask questions, but as a body, council is ineffective.

Anonymous said...

Actually County Council requested this audit because the current Administration was continuing to increase the budget for a project that was supposed be completed by now.

Bernie O'Hare said...

Yeah, council just requested the audit now, after the project is basically completed. All along, there have been complaints, from health problems to lack of oversight. The state had to be brought in under Reibman's watch bc people were getting sick. Council let that go. When people were concerned about asbestos, council looked the other way. But now that an election is coming up, they are looking for points to use against Stoffa. They need to look in a mirror.

Anonymous said...

gee how much did they fountain cost? could that be part of the extra cost? most projects however do run over. 2 mill sounds like a fortune but not unusual. butz did a fine job from what i can see. did they finish? what projects don't cost a small fortune will they be starting any soon? THANKS FOR THE POST

Anonymous said...

gee how much did they fountain cost? could that be part of the extra cost? most projects however do run over. 2 mill sounds like a fortune but not unusual. butz did a fine job from what i can see. did they finish? what projects don't cost a small fortune will they be starting any soon? THANKS FOR THE POST

Anonymous said...

I know the Controller will read this so, Sir, since you want to audit, audit this. The CountyCouncil Chamber Renovation was something like 30-40% over budget. Is that true? How did it happen? Why was no one watching this waste of money? Why did Council just approve the massive overrun without a discussion? Who voted to proceed?

Bernie O'Hare said...

Amount budgeted - $482k
Amount spent - $650k

In the peanut gallery, theatre-style seats have been replaced w/ cheap plastic chaiors.

Working space for the staff has been reduced.

County council had said it was waiting for renovations to install live-streaming equipment so that meetings could be video-taped and viewed by the public. The cost of that would have been $1,500. No live-streaming equipment has been installed. The subject hasn't even been broached with the county's tech people.

The new PA system is as bad or worse than the old PA system.

All in all, it was a waste of money. In fact, that's so obvious that having the controller do an audit would just be another waste of money.

The only council member I can recall voting against this was Ron Angle. Peg Ferraro was installed after this was decided.

The only member who publicly wondered about the change orders was, once again, Ron Angle. He was so livid he refused to sit up on the dais with other council members for about 2 meetings.

Anonymous said...

All of the criticism of NorCo council is patently outrageous.

Super Duper Fiscal Watchdog Wayne Grube kept one eye open in between naps and likely decided the cost overruns resulted in that which is "nice."

Wayne likely can't count to 11 without dropping his pants, but the dude knows "nice."

Mr. Ann McHale said...

Here! Here! The rain has spoiled my outing at the country club so I thought I'd drop by and tell you that I, Mr. Ann McHale, personally checked everything. I even sold county council an insurance policy on the fixtures. Mr. Grube told me it looked "nice." That's good enough for me, and that's all that matters.

Anonymous said...

I am upset with the Council members who voted for this waste of money. I am even more upset that they let such a large overrun go unchallenged.
I am sure they feel $650,000 is not that much money in their world but we have to pick up the tab.
They are a bunch of idiots.

Mr. Lamont McClure said...

Frankly, siir, your statements criticizing council consitute a violation of the Northampton County Code of Civility, something that I, Lamont McClure, wrote myself. I'd suggest you go back into your little tenement and start collecting your dimes and nickels because I've only just begun. Did I mention that Stoffa is an idiot?

Anonymous said...

I hope some of these dolts are running next year so I can be sure not to vote for them.

Anonymous said...

This is the same reason I am against a new parking deck at the NCGC. They claim it will "ONLY" be $19 million dollars. By the time it would be completed it will be $28 million dollars with all kinds of phoney cost overruns to make up for the contractor underbidding the job just to get it. This happens all the time. Henry

Anonymous said...

Henry, that's the only reason? You're cool with $186,000 per parking space? I want to do contract work at your house. You seem an easier mark than Wayne "it's nice" Grube.

Best regards,

PT Barnum

Anonymous said...

PT I said I am against the parking deck. I have said many times here they should build a satilite office on all the land the county owns near Gracedale. For $186,000 per car at the landlocked, outdated NCGC you can build a large parking lot for probably 100 cars for the cost of just one car at the NCGC. In this digital age, most offices at the NCGC can easily be moved to another location. Nazareth would be a good and more central location as well. With the rapidly expanding Northampton County, I think it is foolish for anyone to think that that small location can support the entire area. Henry

Anonymous said...

Some money boys want 'Stoffa Folly' to proceed cause there is money to be made. Before they are finished you will be paying $200,000 per spot. A truely useless project which this incompetent Council will sign off on.

Anonymous said...

Yes overspending on these trivial things makes me so super angry and sick and ashamed I even work for this sham we call government. I certainly hope that what goes around comes around really fast for the likes of council members and Stoffa (except Angle, he's the only intelligent one here). It is certainly nice of them to overspend for themselves and for judges and other "elite and special" employees, while we "severely underpaid" revenue workers only get a slap in the face, told that all we do all day is look at computer screens as a reason why they refuse to look at a possible pay raise, while in all honesty all we do all day is make sure all the county's money (which is a lot, ahem) is taken in and made sure it's placed ""exactly"" where it belongs, waiting on all the taxpayers and answering any and all of their questions, without passing the buck and responsibility like other businesses and tax collectors (mmm, and this is just a """small""" sampling of the 'responsibility' that is expected of us on a daily basis). Yes, thank you so much for throwing taxpayer money down the drain and forgetting (more like crap on) the employees who actually work for those taxpayers. Thank you, thank you, thank you. (and people wonder why employee morale and turnover is so bad?)

Anonymous said...

Amen my friend. The Executive and Council are into photo-ops and not what a county does. They always look for ways to spend money on bog things they can put their names on. Hopefully someone who really understands the County does will help.

Anonymous said...

Can someone explain to me how anyone can predict what the total cost of any project will be? I don't know of many multi-million dollar projects that don't end up costing more than what was originally estimated.

Where did the additional money come from? Shouldn't the project have been estimated at a higher amount?