The much-anticipated December opening of a $30 million sports and recreation complex near the Redskins stadium in Landover has been delayed again because of a contract dispute between the builder and the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission.
County officials said the facility is not likely to open for another three to four months. It had originally been scheduled to open this fall and then rescheduled for December.
The delay has infuriated community members and some county officials. The complex is considered the final payoff in a highly touted deal to build FedEx Field and to bring the Washington Redskins to Prince George's County.
"This is the reward for having been inconvenienced," said Jessie Reeves, president of the Hillcrest Heights Civic Association in Temple Hills. "The people here in central Prince George's have been led down so many blind alleys that it's almost like they are numb. They have not just been misadvised but lied to."
Construction of the complex is already a year behind schedule.
A list produced by county inspectors in November shows 55 items in violation of county code. Several fitness areas, bathrooms and concessions stands also are not finished.
P. Michael Errico, deputy chief administrative officer for County Executive Wayne K. Curry (D), described some of the outstanding items as minor and some as major.
"All the pieces of the government side are working together," he said. "The county executive is anxious to get this facility going."
The builder, Laurel-based Gilbane Building Co., has filed suit in Prince George's County Circuit Court seeking $1.7 million in damages and payment for additional work done on the complex, located off Sheriff Road in the Palmer Park neighborhood of Landover.
In its complaint, Gilbane blamed the delays on the failure of the planning commission to turn over the land on time and on design changes initiated by the county after construction had begun.
For example, the original contract called for a field house that would hold 3,380 occupants. According to the complaint, that was later changed to 11,258 so the field house could accommodate concerts, graduations, trade shows and conventions.
Gilbane spokeswoman Barbara Payne declined to comment on the lawsuit. "Obviously we are continuing to look for some solution, and we hope the commission will meet us halfway," she said.
Bob Watt, a McLean lawyer hired to defend the commission in the lawsuit, said the county is holding Gilbane responsible and fining the company $2,500 a day until the building is completed.
Watt said Gilbane is still working to complete the complex but "not at the pace that we would would like."
"As far as the commission and the county is concerned, as soon as the project is substantially completed, the commission will move quickly to occupy the building and make it available to the public," he said.
The facility, which is 50 feet longer than the Washington Monument is high, features a gymnastics center, two swimming pools, an indoor field house with a 200-meter track, a fitness center, computer center and classrooms.
Council member Marvin F. Wilson (D-Glenarden), who championed the complex during the stadium negotiations, said the dispute is unfair to the public.
"The longer the dispute between Gilbane and Park and Planning goes on, the longer it's going to be for us to present this world-class facility," Wilson said. "It's unfair to the citizens. They are expecting us to deliver the facility, and it could be another year before we can do that."
Planning Board Chairman Elizabeth Hewlett said she also is frustrated. She disputed rumors in the community that the commission did not have enough money to finish the project.
"We're ready to go," she said. "But we're on stand-by. I feel like we have the patience of Job."
Hewlett estimated that it would take three months to furnish the complex once construction is completed and an occupancy permit can be granted.
In the meantime, the private management team selected to run the facility is operating in three trailers on the grounds of the 80-acre complex.
Bob Keil, chief executive of the complex, said 14 of the 26 to 28 full-time employees have been hired.
"The legal issues will have a life of their own," he said. "The point that really needs to be made is that the delay has to do with the quality and aspirations vocalized long ago by the county executive. It's just not up to snuff yet."