Metro officials made frequent visits to the site. Under the terms of its memorandum of understanding with the county, they had the right to approve design drawings and construction changes and, under certain circumstances, to stop work.
Montgomery’s General Services Department, the lead county agency on the project, has had five full-time staff — more than the usual complement — supervising work from a temporary office overseeing the center. The county’s Department of Permitting Services reviewed design drawings for compliance with building and safety codes and met with all major contractors to discuss their roles before construction permits were issued.
The county’s version of the project’s unraveling — it is more than two years behind schedule and tens of millions of dollars over budget — has been met with some skepticism.
“There is no way a thinking person can believe that the county has no responsibility for the outcome of this project,” said County Council member Valerie Ervin (D-Silver Spring).
Judah Lifschitz, an attorney representing Foulger-Pratt, said last week that the county was responsible for 509 days of delay between June 2011 and March 2013, mostly attributable to construction changes forced by problems with the building’s design. The county disputes Foulger’s claim.
“It’s interesting how the county has portrayed itself,” Bryant Foulger, the firm’s managing principal, said in an interview this month. “It’s, ‘We’re just like a homeowner, we just wanted someone to come in and build a kitchen for us.’ As though they had another full-time job.”
County Executive Isiah Leggett (D) has taken pains to set a transparent and forthcoming tone, especially with material that places blame on the private contractors. The report from the consultant, KCE Structural Engineers, which was commissioned by the county, was posted on the General Services Department’s Web page, along with 10 gigabytes of supporting documents and exhibits.
Leggett said he is satisfied that the county has been completely forthright about where accountability rests.
“We have a report that the county feels pretty clear about,” he said. “But if there are questions about it, they will be considered through the legal process.”
The condition of the three-level concrete structure, which is due to undergo repairs this summer, has driven a wedge between the county and WMATA, which began the venture nearly a decade ago as partners. Last week, county officials disclosed an April 12 letter from Metro saying that it would no longer take control of and operate the facility upon completion — a provision of the memorandum of understanding. County officials said they believe that negotiations with WMATA will continue.