Completed in 2003, $19M State Hospital Held up over Security, Construction

Problems with security fence, fire system hold up opening of hospital for mentally ill

In May 2003, the architect issued a letter accepting the completed project, with the exception of a few "punch-list" items that still needed work.

GSFIC accepted the building.

Gena Abraham is director of Georgia State Financing and Investment Commission's construction division. The GSFIC manages state construction projects. Abraham was not in the chief's job when the hospital was being built, but she inherited the challenge of bringing the Cook building to completion.

Abraham said the architect's 2003 letter indicated that the building was ready to go.

"We received that document from the architect, so we believed at the time we had the grand opening for the facility that things were OK," she said. The architectural firm, now called Perkins & Will, declined to make any comment for this article.

Problems Abounded

As state officials and consultants took a closer look, Abraham said, "We started to discover problems. That's where this thing took off to a whole new degree."

The DHR refused to accept the building.

Joe Watkins in the DHR's Office of Facilities and Support Services said in a July 29, 2003, e-mail to the GSFIC, "DHR refused to accept it since the building was nonfunctional for our designed program to serve state (mental health) clients and staff."

He continued, "Security system was nonfunctioning including the exterior fence and interior doors, sallyport, etc. ... too many to list here."

Watkins wanted to know "if and when the project will be turned over to the bonding company to get it ready for our usage and occupancy."

He added that the project, officially called DHR-62, "has caused a lot of concern for us all."

The GSFIC's project manager, Jason Williams, replied a week later that his agency was working out the bugs. The contractor said all punch-list items would be complete by the end of August.

But by December 2003, there were still problems. And month after month, new ones kept turning up. According to GSFIC records:

Two days before Christmas, Watkins reported problems with an outer security fence. Concrete footings were not poured to the required depth. He asked if it should be torn down and replaced. Eventually it was.

In January 2004, a security consultant reported problems with the fire alarm system. He said, "Due to the extent of problems encountered, there is some concern as to whether a proper initial certification was ever performed for this system."

By June 2004, there were reports of leaks throughout the building, and the fire alarm system still could not be certified.

In September 2004, a hospital employee discovered that some of the air vents could be pushed up, giving access to the space above the ceiling. They were supposed to be security fixtures that were fastened in place.

By November 2004, there were still leaks.

By last July, work on the fire alarm was nearly complete, but the system had been damaged by a lightning strike.

In August, Watkins reported the electrical system was not properly grounded, the elevators weren't working right, and that "hard and soft drop ceilings were not installed to design specifications and are a health/safety issue due to potential falling."

He added, "Please note, this is not all of the Cook (building) issues, but the major ones known about at this time."

$1 Million More Needed

Abraham said last week that many of the problems have been solved.

"The fence has been completely fixed. That was with the help of the contractor and the subcontractor," she said.

But some problems remain. Abraham said they include: the installation of a fuel tank; grading to control stormwater runoff; ceilings not properly anchored to the structure; electrical system grounding; and a possible problem with a boiler.

She estimated it will cost of $800,000 to $1 million to make the fixes.

That's on top of the $19.2 million now estimated to be the total project cost.

GSFIC has been spending money out of its own operating budget to make repairs, but Abraham said it does not have enough funds to finish fixing all the problems. To get the money, she said, the state will go after the contractor's surety bond.