RSA Tower – No Turn For The Better

As 1994, ‘95, and ‘96 rolled by, Huber, Hunt & Nichols’ attempts to complete the job became ever more desperate and pathetic.  By 1996 the RSA’s big-time commercial tenants, Morgan-Keegan, AmSouth Bank and Club Corporation of America out of Dallas were all suffering delayed occupancy, and the air was thick with threats of litigation from all sides.

Toward the end, communication between the contractor and the architect became pure vitriol.  Adversarial posturing became the order of the day.  PH&J’s relationship with the Huber-Hunt team became so poor, and the contractors’ miscreant staff became so frustrated, that one day yours truly was the recipient of a two-minute burst of invective launched by one of the HH&N assistant superintendents in the job office.  There was nothing I could do but depart the premises, and I never again entered their domain.  From that day on, our face-to-face meetings involved only their head man and always in my office.

By then the job had dragged on for so long that it had become an auger of despair.   Job morale was pitiful and no local workers of caliber could be enticed to remain.  The beleaguered subcontractors were bound legally to stay aboard but were most miserable.  The roofing sub, Wally Fulton of Mobile, finally bankrupted and thus escaped.  His departure left a terrible void to fill, but no local roofer could be enticed to replace him at whatever cost.  Finally, a substitute roofer was brought in from far away Houston.  As might be expected, the Houston roofer felt no responsibility, either morally or contractually.

Also, about this time, the manufacturer of the window and curtain wall system, Tri-State Glass Company of Valdosta, Georgia, went into receivership, and responsibility for that extremely important aspect of our building also became problematic.

In June of ‘96, Charles Agee, who was Dover Elevator’s very capable and well-liked chief installer, committed suicide.  His death cast an even deeper pall over the job.

Vandalism on the project became a real problem.  It was not juveniles wandering in from the street–it was the demoralized job workers.  They would slit the vinyl wall covering, crack the polished granite facings, scratch the prefinished mahogany or steal fixtures.  The building was so huge no one could catch them.  At one point someone threw masonry rubble down from a top floor and aimed at PH&J clerk Roy Bray.  Bray went to the hospital with his ear almost taken off, but he was lucky.  Were it not for his helmet, we would have lost Roy.

The Tower original construction contract called for completion within 999 calendar days, and after the AmSouth and Capitol City Club work was added, the liquidated damage assessment for failure to complete on time  reached $17,000 per day.  Even with liberal extensions added for various and sundry reasons, the work was so overdue that the potential damage penalty finally exceeded three million dollars.

To protect its flank, HH&N conjured up scores of illegitimate claims, most of which would have been laughable but for the pseudo blessing that Owner-Rep Ron Blount would give to each one.  For instance, HH&N would claim reimbursement for something clearly covered by their contract, and Ron would say “Well, that was too hard to expect them to do it.”  I was constantly nonplused at such remarks by Ron, absurd positions which I had not heard in my forty years in the industry.

One claim already noted was $500,000 for the chiller dirt delay, a set-back avoidable by simply adjusting the schedule.  According to Ron, the claim was justifiable because PH&J did not ask Huber-Hunt to adjust it.  Ron and I were in such complete disagreement over the chiller claim that I was able to convince him to employ a local independent construction manager type to help adjudicate the matter.  His name was David Pearson, and after his initial reading of the file, he let slip an opinion that the HH&N claim was nonsense.  Ron promptly fired him so the opinion would never appear in writing.

Terry Chesnutt, PH&J’s ace field man on the Tower project, along with his two clerks, Harry Langlois and Roy Bray, became ever more frustrated.  They doggedly kept writing deficiency reports which grew to book length.  To counter this, Monte Thurmond, the HH&N project manager, arranged to have Ron Blount waive away large numbers of our punch list items.  They even had a term which meant the Owner had voided an item on our list–they called the maneuver “Code 5 ”.  It was humiliating when the contractor laughed at our citations and remarked, “We’ll  just have that marked Code 5.”

-Charles Humphries (“Peril and Intrigue Within Architecture”)

This is one of many RSA Tower stories. The rest can be found here.

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