Weather and permitting delays have pushed back the timeline on the demolition of the former Ralph deChabert housing community on St. Croix, but V.I. Housing Authority officials said Tuesday that the approval of a nearly $1 million change order will allow the project to be finished by June 5.
The demolition is almost two years coming, with the Housing Authority board initially approving the site for “demolition and disposition” in June 2013. A year later, V.I. Housing Authority Executive Director Robert Graham said federal funding had been awarded by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development for the project.
At a meeting in June 2014, Graham said he expected to soon bring to the board two resolutions for approval: one for architectural and engineering services that would help prepare the site for demolition, and a second for the actual demolition. HUD’s funding was to be obligated within a year and completely spent within two years, which Graham said the authority should be able to do.
The first of the two resolutions was approved by the board during a meeting in December, with the contract for the demolition going to RG Engineering. According to officials, seven bids for the project were received, ranging in price from $4.4 million to nearly $8 million. The scope of work included the demolition of 45 residential units, one community building, a water tower and all other structures on the site.
Graham has said the buildings on the site have continued to deteriorate over the years and that there is now even greater liability for the authority, as illegal dumping, drug and gang related crime and the continued presence of children using the land as a playground have increased.
During a January meeting, however, board members explained that Marco St. Croix, one of the losing bidders, had challenged the contract award and filed for preliminary injunctive relief and a stay that would have, if granted, prevented RG Engineering from proceeding with the project. But a court decision came down in favor of the authority, allowing VIHA to spend emergency funding that had been approved for the project.
The authority was awarded $4.2 million in federal emergency capital grant funds for the demolition, and had decided to take the remaining $366,255 from a fiscal year 2014 capital fund grant award. Officials have said it would have cost the authority more than $64 million to build the development back up to federal standards.
During the board’s emergency meeting Tuesday on St. Thomas, Graham added that the lawsuit also caused delays that forced the contractor to “accelerate” the project in order to meet the deadlines and spend the grant and emergency funds on time.
“The contractor requested extensions of time to complete the project and the authority, with its architect, negotiated over the cost of the overhead and other items and agreed on a change order … of $983,500, which would allow for the completion of the project by June 5,” Graham said.
While the deadline for spending the emergency grant funds is May 12, Graham said that the authority would be spending those first before anything else and that the contractor would draw down the money every two weeks to make sure the deadline is met.
Housing Authority officials said the “final draw” of grant funds should be no later than May 5. Graham added that bi-weekly meetings with the contractor would also ensure that the invoices are processed accurately.
While there were some concerns from board chair Luis Sylvester about the contractor having a fixed-price contract, meaning that the company would have to “eat” any increased costs associated with the project, other board members said that the company was forced to accelerate the demolition, justifying the approval of the change order. In the end, the change order was approved, with all board members voting in favor.