From the beginning, Washington's new $40 million Municipal Center, rising out of the blight of 14th and U streets, was planned as a public works showcase of the Barry administration. It was important enough so that a section of the building was photographed for the cover of the city's annual report released last Thursday. An introduction by Mayor Barry stated that the building was completed. But it isn't, and now the mayor wants $5 million more to finish the job. He says $1.5 million of that is needed to defray the cost of construction delays.
It turns out that cracks have developed on the beams that support four elevated walkways inside the building. At various times, contractors at the site expressed concern that the walkways were flawed. A structural engineer hired by this newspaper inspected building plans and said there appeared to be insufficient vertical and horizontal reinforcement of the beams. The public cannot escape wondering whether something important at the center needs to be fixed.
Perhaps speed was too important in putting up the new center. Work has proceeded on a "fast track" basis: construction goes on even though work on the design of the building is not complete. City officials took project engineer Michael Hurd off the job last spring for not moving quickly enough. Ironically, it is resultant design problems, such as those involving the walkways, that have helped put the project a year behind schedule.
There are more common problems: claims by contractors who want more money than they originally said was needed, bickering over which contruction firms are slowing others down.
There are also indications of lapses in planning and supervision by District officials. A "fast track" approach requires close supervision and oversight, and such scrutiny must necessarily come in part from the District government. The city deserves a development that can be cited with pride by its officials and residents -- and one that is built to last.