Dorm construction halted

After Florida A&M’s Board of Trustees terminated a building contract with Premier Construction and Development, Inc., conststruction of Polkinghorne Village residence hall is back in the planning stages.

According to Sam Houston, the university’s director of facilities planning and construction, the BOT cancelled Premier’s building contract on Aug. 16. After that, the BOT instructed FAMU to advertise public contract bids for the project, which appeared in Florida Administrative Weekly.

An Aug. 28 email to Behzad Ghazvini of Premier from Chief Financial Officer Teresa Hardee, found within the Sept. 20 BOT meeting agenda materials, said the BOT “intends to engage DAG Architects under a separate agreement” and that Premier’s contract will be “terminated upon your timely and proper completion of your limited scope of work;” the work being the dorm’s foundation.

The lingering question is why did the BOT terminate Premier’s contract?

According to another email, found within the same BOT meeting’s agenda materials, to Premier’s council from GrayRobinson Attorneys at Law, council of the BOT, Premier initially quoted the Polkinghorne project to cost $34, 650, 000. Although the price wasn’t set in stone, Premier urged FAMU to authorize it to “proceed with limited scopes of work to install the building foundations.”

During this time, the email said, Premier was aware that FAMU set aside $48 million for the project, a nearly $14 million difference of the quoted amount. On June 28, Premier told FAMU that construction costs would then be “around $48 million,” 37 percent over the initial budget and, “interestingly,” the full amount of the project’s allocated funds.

The email said FAMU’s staff was “stunned” at the new budget, questioning if Premier intentionally tried to match the project’s entire budget. Premier said it was “imperative” to continue work to stay on schedule, which former President James Ammons authorized on July 25. FAMU still allowed the construction company to do “foundation work” without setting a final budget.

The email states Premier presented a status report to the board on July 12 “proposing four unsatisfactory alternatives, none of which included building the project within budget and on schedule.” The alternatives proposed for the 800-bed facility were nearly 20 percent over budget.

“Premier Construction would’ve had FAMU over budget with significant quality and scope cuts,” Houston said. He also said he’s working “very diligently” on the project’s audit, and it should be available on Nov. 1.

“We had to push construction back one year because of the contract. The new one will be much better.”

Companies no longer working on the Polkinghorne Village project, including Premier, feel it is unfair to lose their multi-million dollar contracts. They were unavailable for comment. Premier urged the board at last week’s BOT meeting to consider the families and private issues of the people who are now out of work.

“Our community has lost those jobs and that income,” said Jim Magee of Precision Masonry Construction, Inc. “I’m not giving up. These men and women are ready to come back to work.”

A mandatory on-site visit for potential project bidders is on Oct. 2 and open bids start on Oct. 23. A contract will be drafted on Nov.1 and the residence hall’s scheduled completion is June 1, 2014. Ten to 18 construction and building companies have contacted FAMU about the project. A resume construction date has not yet been announced.