Looks like John Lattimer, the Chief Administrative Officer for Marion County, has been caught in a lie -- along with some members of the Salem City Council, who have been spreading the same falsehoods.
Here's what Lattimer said in a recent Statesman Journal letter to the editor, "Don't 'nickel and dime' police facility plan":
The community has a great example of what happens when buildings are re-designed to reduce costs. The Courthouse Square and Transit Mall is a perfect example of attempts to cut costs. There was a great amount of political heat on the decision makers at the time to reduce costs. Eventually, both the building and transit mall had to be re-engineered at great cost.
The Salem City Council should not make the same mistake.
I don't know whether Lattimer intentionally misrepresented the cause of the problems with Courthouse Square in downtown Salem to justify wasting money on an oversized and overpriced new police facility, or if he is just clueless about why Courthouse Square (built by Marion County and the Cherriots Transit Board) had to undergo extensive repairs after being built.
Before sharing what architect Geoffrey James, who chaired a Courthouse Square Task Force repair committee, has to say about Lattimer's letter, here's what Susan Kaltwasser said in a Facebook post. (I've corrected a few typos in both her post and James' messages):
John Lattimer should be ashamed of himself as Marion County CAO to so misrepresent what happened at the Courthouse Square! There are public records that clearly show that the problem was not due to cutting corners on the budget, BUT rather lack of oversight by the county and errors made by the construction contractors and engineers.
This is not opinion as Lattimer is giving, but fact based upon impartial investigation and court documents. This engineer made more mistakes in buildings in Salem projects (Salem Hospital parking structure).
The City Council is negligent in not questioning the consultants thus far and stating that they will trust the experts. Well experts can be wrong. Oversight is what is needed, NOT more money.
This lie is being promoted by those who want to fool the Salem public into thinking more money means a better building. They think that an expensive PR firm can "sell" the project to the voters. I hope that the voters will see through this.
I also hope that the voters throw these current politicians who are making these wrong and costly mistakes out in May. We need people who think for themselves and read the staff reports and vote on what is right for citizens and not just what lines theirs and other builder friends' pockets with taxpayers' hard earned money.
We need a police station. We can have a large, adequate and well built facility for $30 million. We do not need another expensive parking structure when one is just a block away.
And here's what Geoffrey James said in an online comment on Lattimer's letter to the editor:
The writer is incorrect. I served on both the Courthouse Square Task Force (and chaired a committee) and on the Blue Ribbon Police Facility Task Force.
My work on Courthouse Square started in 1986 with early site studies and conceptual design, for County and Transit. The building was constructed for $34M in 2000, with a perfectly adequate budget, i.e. certainly not built on the cheap.
The facts are that both the Salem Hospital Parking Garage and the Courthouse Square were designed by the same structural engineer, who made some serious design mistakes in the post-stressed flat slab concrete structure design and calculations, of both buildings.
Salem Health decided to fix their building. Marion County (the letter writer is county administrator) decided not to, because they insisted on staying on time and budget, i.e. no change orders. So that meant that I (as committee chair for the fix) had to spend hundreds of volunteer hours (10 years later) finding a way to repair the building for $20M, versus the $65M the Portland consultants had estimated.
Local volunteers were proven right. The expensive out-of-town consultants were proven wrong (by $40M) and the taxpayers won. Sounds familiar?
Chicago consultants recommend a $82M Police Facility, when we know that Eugene's new one was $17M. The bottom line is that Courthouse Square had an adequate budget of $34M. It was the engineering consultant, and the city's lack of an engineer reviewing the plans, that led to the $22.8M problem that we (locals) devised a fix for.
It would have cost a fraction of that if the county administrator had recommended a $3M? fix during construction. Beware of out-of-town consultants and their big cost estimates, and watch out for consultants' mistakes. Quality control (by city or county) is needed, not excessive budgets.
This fits with the "How did things go so wrong?" section of a blog post from the law firm that handled a legal battle about the Courthouse Square structural defects. Excerpts:
In their report, Golder found serious problems with the building's structural design, writing that it was inadequate; lacked sufficient detail and clarity; and was never subjected to peer-review before or during construction. Design revisions made during construction were also cited in the report as worsening the building's already-flawed structural design.
The report also blamed management and supervision errors for the poor construction practices which led to the building's structural and other defects...
The lack of experience in managing and overseeing construction projects similar in size and scope to the Courthouse Square project among County and Transit officials, the architect and the primary contractor were also cited in the report as contributing to the flawed construction.
Finally, the forensic engineering report, citing data from concrete strength tests it conducted during its investigation, concluded that the building's concrete elements were too weak.
Lastly, I asked Geoffrey James to respond to Lattimer's claim that cost-cutting was the cause of Courthouse Square's construction problems. Here's the message that he emailed back to me. It provides more detail than James' online comment.
Courthouse Square was advertised to developers in 1999 and the County & Transit received two proposals. One was from a Transit Board member, with Pence Construction, and Arbuckle Costic Architects. Another was from SABA Development (Vancouver B.C.) with Marion Construction, and Geoffrey James A.I.A. (who had just developed Liberty Plaza).
Each bid proposal was for $30M. The Selection Committee was chaired by Justice Edwin Peterson, and they picked the Transit Board member developer “because he is local”.
The Transit Board member who was selected by the chair of the Selection Committee, Edward Peterson, (Anna Peterson’s husband), working as a committee on behalf of the owners, Marion County & Salem Keizer Transit, to be the Courthouse Square developer, was Prudential realtor Dan Berrey. Dan subsequently resigned from the Board the very next day, to make his millions.
Quite a conflict of interest.
They subsequently parted from the developer, maybe because of differences and the conflict of interest, and the County Commissioners & Transit Board decided to go ahead and build it using COP’s (Certificates Of Participation), which are like municipal bonds, in that the “loan” is based on the computed “rent” paid by the agencies who agree to occupy the building, plus some $7M in federal DTA funds, for the Transit Center, some $5M in downtown urban renewal funds, and the balance to be repaid at $1.5M annually for 30 years.
So they are halfway paying back the “financing”. Total project was $34M. A Portland project management firm was hired to manage the schedule, but not to provide construction management or quality control.
At least two mistakes were made.
The structural engineer, from Bend, miscalculated the post-tensioned concrete reinforcing system. The concrete installer sub-contractor may have diluted the concrete mix in order to facilitate its “pumping” up from concrete trust to the upper floor slabs, thus resulting in a reduction in concrete strength from what was designed and specified.
The engineer passed away during construction and that firm had no registered engineer on staff during the building’s construction. Neither did the City have a structural engineer on staff, to review the structural plans.
Now, the Salem Hospital Parking Garage which was built about the same time and was designed by that same engineer, and had the same builder, also developed the same deflexion and camber problems. In that case the hospital was made aware of the problem and decided to pay $3M to have Pence make repairs and structural strengthening.
We understand that County Commissioners may have been informed of the structural problems, but were intent on keeping on time and on budget, so refused a change order to fix things while under construction. So the $34M building was finished and occupied.
It was not until 10 years later that cracking and movement was observed and the building evacuated. Some Portland architects recommended $65M in gutting and repairs to the $34M building. Geoffrey James A.I.A. chaired the Task Force Technical Committee and claimed that the building could be fixed for $20M, and subsequently proved it by inviting experts from Baltimore.
The County/Transit were persuaded to try that “ solution” and put that concept out to bid. The selected team came up with $22.8M to bring the building back to "as new" condition, and the strongest in the valley.
So, city councilors are mistaken that Courthouse Square was underfunded. $34M was an adequate budget. The problem was actually structural design errors and lack of construction quality control.
“We don’t want another Courthouse Square” is the common cry from the council. Well, with a Clerk of the Works or construction quality control, and maybe a second engineer to review the design, those problems would not happen. It has absolutely nothing to do about the construction budget.
John Lattimer worked for the State when Courthouse Square was designed and built so he was not around, and just inherited the problem. He is wrong in making a comparison with the Police Facility. The original $34M was completely adequate. It was the structural engineering design, not the budget, that was faulty.
Salem Community Vision urges the City to use value engineering, and the CM/GC [construction manager/general contractor] construction procurement method that was actually used in the FIX of the county building, where the contractor, the engineers, and the architects were a Team that developed the best scenario at an affordable cost. $22.8M versus the $65M estimate by the out of town consultants.
$40M savings to the tax payer. The same is being recommended on the Police Facility, where Salem Community Vision has shown that $40M+ in cost savings are possible, and the state of the art facility, with a trimmed size, and a careful selection of structural system, can be built at a cost level that the public will find acceptable, because the inflated $82M to $85M figure means a failed bond measure, and we want a police facility to proceed, now.
-- Geoffrey James A.I.A. Architect