Earthquake safety codes delay veterans home plan
by KEVIN GROSS
The veterans home project at 4250 N. Oak Park Ave. that was already facing construction delays due to the state budget impasse, has hit another snag, as it was partially built not up to state earthquake safety standards that now need to be fixed before construction can restart yet again.
The partially constructed five-story, 200 bed project, which is overseen by the state’s Capital Development Board and designed by architecture and engineering firm Harley Ellis Devereaux was built on a foundation that has now been identified as non-compliant with earthquake safety requirements.
"The mistake was on Harley Ellis, they made a seismic requirement error in coding the building. It was coded to Chicago building code, which has no seismic requirements," CDB public information officer Leslie Strain said. "CDB development projects require all contracts to adhere to state standards, which are related to an international building code. That code requires all contracted firms to adhere to those standards."
Strain said that the mistake was attributed to an engineer contracted with the firm, who is no longer licensed with the state.
The board was made aware of "a significant design flaw" in March, Strain said. She said that the firm used inaccurate shop drawings from a contractual engineer who improperly coded seismic requirements for the building.
"We obviously don’t get a lot of earthquakes, but they don’t change the code by geography," state Senator John Mulroe (D-10) said.
The project will undergo drilling and filling of the foundation as well as partial reassembly of existing structures to access the base of the site. According to Strain, a proceed order and three change orders to the project’s design have been presented to the development board since Aug. 16, including shoring, design and reproduction of west tower panels and removal of already-installed underground electrical duct banks, and east and west tower foundation design and work necessary for compliance with seismic safety requirements.
"They will have a drill bit going 100 feet into the ground to make sure the foundation is sound," Mulroe said. "It’s my understanding the boring is designed to support the existing foundation and structure. They might put metal down these holes."
State Representative Robert Martwick (D-19) said that according to CDB legislative liaison Jaclyn O’Day, "the (current) building is not being demolished. They will take down some concrete panels to access the foundation, and reassemble them almost like Lego’s."
According to CDB meeting records, the board decided on Sept. 12 that 79 of the previously installed panels were to be evaluated and re-used, and 34 additional panels need to be demolished.
"There’s only about one-third of the building currently up, they can fix it and they’re shoring it up before building anything else," Martwick said.
According to Strain, the design flaws were discovered during the project’s restart review process in March. The three change orders will cost a maximum of $3.23 million, putting the current expenditure at about $20.3 million. The total project is expected to cost $92.4 million, Strain said.
Former Governor Pat Quinn announced the project in 2009, broke ground for the project in September of 2014 and construction of the project was first restarted in August of 2016 after a years-long state budget impasse between Governor Bruce Rauner and the Illinois General Assembly, which prevented budgeted money from being authorized to be spent on the project.
"They didn’t break ground until 2014. After Rauner became elected (the project) became a casualty of the budget," Martwick said. "All the cash got frozen up because there needed to be an appropriation authority. But now we have the authority to spend on the project."
"(The project) was appropriated way back in 2009," Strain said. "But of course with the budget impasse, when the Rauner administration stopped all CDB projects, we didn’t receive any appropriation from the General Assembly."
Alderman Nicholas Sposato (38th) described constituents’ frustration over the project.
"When (Rauner) froze state funds, I’m not sure if it was possible to pick and choose projects line-by-line to fund and support," Sposato said. "But privately, people will come up to me and say (the delays) are a real shame for the vets, asking if the home will ever really be finished. What I tell them is to call the governor’s office and ask them if it’s possible to expedite the project. It’s a travesty it’s not done yet."
However, with the project to resume again and additional error-related costs tallied, the CDB will pay up front to help rectify foundation mistakes, with the expectation of future reimbursement.
"My understanding is that the (foundation) costs have come up front from our appropriation, just to get the project going up and underway," Strain said. "However, within all CDB contracts there is a design defect clause. This is a major mistake, so we will be pursuing all avenues to receive money from them through that contract clause. All those costs should be taken from Harley Ellis."
"The contract provision allows the state to seek reimbursement for errors, to make sure taxpayers don’t foot the bill," Martwick said. "They (the CDB) intend to be reimbursed and address the issue with litigation if necessary."
Despite many delays restart efforts are taking place and heavy construction is slated for spring of 2018. Barring more hurdles, completion of the home is scheduled by mid-2019.
"The site is currently described to me as a ‘beehive of activity,’" Mulroe said.