Work on Natchez colonnades project in dispute

Published 12:02 am Sunday, July 5, 2015

NATCHEZ — Construction crews soon will pack up their bags ahead of a July 29 deadline for the restoration of the Toll Plaza Colonnades on Canal Street nears — but the job will not be 100-percent completed when crews leave.

The contractor doing the $430,000 project says several renovations to the colonnades will not be finished because they were left off the original plans, and the city refuses to pay for the extra work.

Contractor Dick Thompson, owner of Live Oak Construction, said several construction needs were left out of the original restoration plan produced by Smith Seckman, Reid Engineering (SSR).

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Thompson said prior to the bidding process, SSR did a poor inspection of the historic colonnades, and didn’t account for rotting wood and other infrastructure issues that would need repair.

While working on the colonnades, Thompson said his crewmembers ran into these problems, which prompted Thompson to eventually submit 11 change orders for the project.

“The engineer didn’t do a good job assessing the work, and that’s why the change orders came up,” Thompson said.

Natchez Community Development Director James Johnston said the change orders were denied because the city and SSR found them to be unreasonable.

Thompson, however, claims the change orders were denied for a different reason.

“They denied the change orders because they don’t have any money,” Thompson said. “When you’re restoring an 80-year-old historic site and you’re limited to the knowledge from what you can see, the plans end up being incomplete. A lot of obvious errors and omissions occur.”

Thompson said the first six change orders all dealt with installing a roof on the colonnades, which was not in the original engineering plan.

Thompson said a representative with SSR gave him a “constructive directive” to leave out roof costs in his $430,000 bid, and that it would later be “taken care of” in a change order.

Change orders seven through 10 deal with electrical issues and problems with columns and the construction of the main beams that run across the tops of the columns, Thompson said.

The 11th change order details “delays and damages” incurred from lack of city planning, Thompson said.

“If they would have approved our change orders, the (colonnades) would have been done two months ago,” Thompson said. “The lack of decision and money has killed this project, but we’re going to finish it.”

Thompson approximated that the cost to complete the change orders, excluding roof costs, is $62,500.

In an effort to be compensated for the city’s alleged “errors and omissions,” Thompson said he sent an invoice of $460,000 to the city.

“Their insurance company will have to cough up that money,” said Thompson, referring to SSR.

Natchez Mayor Butch Brown said over the course of the colonnades project, the scope of work was only altered a few times — but not enough to warrant such a costly invoice.

“Obviously we will dispute that,” Brown said of the invoice. “There must have been an error or misunderstanding, because we don’t owe them that much.”

The project, funded by the Mississippi Department of Transportation, the Mississippi Development Authority and the City of Natchez, was first bid on in November 2014.

Thompson’s company, Thompson Tree and Spraying Service — which employs Live Oak Construction — gave the low bid of $430,000 while Dozer LLC gave a high bid of $1.2 million.

Thompson said Dozer’s bid included costs to install a roof on the colonnades.

Both Brown and Johnston said the remaining change orders would be denied.

“When (Thompson’s) contract ends, the city will do some work that was left off the plans initially,” Brown said. “But it will be after he completed everything in his scope of work.”

Brown said by using city staff to finish remaining renovations, money would be saved.

“The roof is a minor cost item, and it’s a simple thing we can perform without having an outside contractor to do it,” Brown said.

Unforeseen costs are typical when dealing with renovating historic structures, Brown said, and the city will pick up the extra costs.

“We can save thousands of dollars by doing that ourselves,” Brown said.

Thompson said he performed some work that was not included in his scope of work, which was later detailed in four change orders.

If the city does not provide compensation for the extra work, Thompson said he would take legal action.

“The immense deterioration of the architrave (beam over the columns) was just monumental and overwhelming,” he said.

Brown said the city has had no issues with the scope of work performed so far, and the city intends to pay him only for that scope of work.

The colonnades were erected in 1940 as part of the construction of the Mississippi River Bridge.

Brown said they will serve as a centerpiece for the city’s tricentennial year, beginning January 2016.