A year later, 'emergency repairs' continue at City-County Building

City-County Building rooftops were in danger of falling

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Still notice the scaffolding surrounding the City-County Building?

Probably not, if you're like most Downtown workers. An oddity when it first went up, the scaffolding has faded into the scenery of Grant Street, as overlooked by passers-by as the sidewalks they walk on.

But it'll be around for a while longer, as the building's roof repair project chugs past the one-year mark and its budget balloons to millions of dollars.

City officials now say it will cost more than $4 million to repair the building's parapet and cornices, which engineers said last year were in danger of crumbling and falling onto the street below. The project, originally expected to last a few weeks when it began in April 2012, likely won't wrap up before November.

"It apparently has turned into a little bit longer than everyone expected," said Glenn Foglio, president of Graciano Corp., the contractor overseeing the repair. "There have been a lot of changes -- investigations found different conditions that weren't there originally."

So far, the city has spent nearly $900,000 on the repair, according to the city controller. Since the building houses both city and county offices, Pittsburgh and Allegheny County have agreed to split the cost, with each side contributing $2.2 million.

That figure is far better than original estimates -- some engineers put the project price at more than $30 million -- but the length of the contract might be stretching the definition of an "emergency," the vital language that gave the deal to Graciano, an O'Hara masonry firm with high-profile projects in New York City.

By law, the city must advertise most construction jobs and give companies a chance to name a price. Open bidding promotes competition and prevents city officials from awarding profitable contracts to their friends.

But in emergencies -- say, the threat of a roof stone crushing pedestrians -- the city is allowed to award a contract right away, dropping the lengthy bidding process. Such a waiver is typically used to stabilize a problem before bidding out a larger restoration contract.

Last year, the city granted an emergency repair contract to Graciano, agreeing that the City-County Building's deterioration posed an immediate threat to the public. The city interviewed three contractors and went with the most qualified, officials said.

"I hate to do that in my position," said Rob Kaczorowski, city public works director. "But engineering and architectural staff working with the county decided this was an emergency and had to be taken care of immediately."

And a year later, it still is an emergency, according to the city. In November, with $900,000 spent, city officials asked Graciano to stay on for the whole job. Previous authorizations from city council authorized only "temporary" repairs, but the slate of work supplied to the county appears more involved -- waterproofing portions of the building's roof, repointing masonry, patching stonework.

Mr. Kaczorowski said the city reasoned it would be more expensive to ask Graciano to dismantle its equipment and submit bids for a new job than to just keep the crews on site.

"In a situation like this, you need some contractors with expertise in this field," Mr. Kaczorowski said. "You don't know who would have the experience, knowledge and ability to go into this. It's not like you're fixing the sidewalk or something."

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Andrew McGill: amcgill@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1497.


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