It could be June before the City of Lawton begins using its new public safety facility.
The opening date of that building under construction between Railroad and Larrance streets has changed several times during the course of construction. Originally, construction by contractor Flintco was projected for completion in late 2019 or January 2020. But, problems along the way — including delays caused by excessive wet weather in late 2018 through spring 2019, as well as delays in utility work — influenced construction.
While the completion date had been estimated at mid-February in recent months, city administrators now predict the building will be functional in May or June.
The project “is running behind,” conceded City Engineer George Hennessee, although he said he couldn’t comment on how far behind schedule because the contractor still has the option of putting additional staff on it.
“It depends on the manpower he puts on the project,” Hennessee said.
Hennessee said the contractor will seek approved rain delays, a process that means appealing to the City Council for “credit” on delays in construction caused by weather. That latest request hasn’t been processed yet, Hennessee said.
Those delay processes are similar to the process used for change orders, or changes from the original contract. A council directive in 2019 brings all those change orders to the council floor for discussion and action.
Hennessee said most construction has moved to the building’s interior, where contractors “are moving along pretty good.” They have finished out the third floor (the center of the building, which will be part of the police department), and are working on utilities on the second floor.
There is some major work remaining outside — a parking lot and driveways on the west side of the building. But that work will be influenced by Public Service Company of Oklahoma. Last year, the council awarded PSO an easement that will allow the company to install an underground electrical transmission line, work the electric company has not yet begun.
“PSO is holding off on it,” Hennessee said of that electrical work.
From a contractor’s point of view, it makes more sense to delay the parking lot until that utility work is done. Otherwise, the contractor would need utility cuts on the freshly-poured surface. That work on the west side of the building will be dictated by when PSO completes its work installing a transmission line south of the substation on West Gore Boulevard, south along Railroad Street and along Southwest A and Southwest B streets.
Deputy City Manager Bart Hadley said city officials are working with PSO to determine when the line will be placed.
That project also means the contractor is asking for additional time to the contract completion, to accommodate the PSO delay, Hennessee said, adding that decision will be made by the City Council — and the request (change order number 26) hasn’t gone to that body yet. PSO has said it expects six weeks of construction on the underground electrical line.
Hennessee estimated total construction on the public safety facility is 75-80 percent complete, under recent estimates.
“It appears they are behind schedule,” Hennessee said.
That is important because delay days that cannot be accounted for and approved by the council are a violation of the work contract and could subject the contractor to liquidated damages (essentially, a per-day fine due to unapproved delays). The liquidated damages on the public safety building is $3,000 per day, city officials said.
Completion of construction doesn’t automatically mean the building will open for business.
There are things the City of Lawton and its police, fire, jail and municipal court staffs must do to prepare the building for occupancy. Once Flintco is finished with construction and its punch list (minor construction-related work), the city must place furniture and fixtures while moving files and related items from the existing offices. That city work cannot occur until the punch list is done.
“It will take them a month to move all the equipment,” Hennessee said, adding that even if the city did take possession of the building in February, it will be March before the building is ready for occupancy.
Hadley said administrators aren’t certain how long the move-in process will take, but each department will be responsible for moving its staff and equipment. He noted the complexities of moving some operations, even though $2 million worth of new furnishings and fixtures already will be in the building. The most challenging is expected to be Lawton Police Department, because of records and materials related to stored evidence that must be moved under specific criteria.
“Certain departments may be up and operational at the new facility at various times,” Hadley said, adding the public will be kept apprised of the process and conceding there may be some disruption of services.