- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 9, 2012

A federally funded Job Corps vocational training complex in Southwest Washington was supposed to cost taxpayers $5.5 million, but the Labor Department says it needs another $2.7 million to finish the job, which has been plagued by bad weather, landslides, battles with unpaid subcontractors and charges of shoddy construction, records and interviews show.

The proposed three-building complex at the Potomac Job Corps Center, which ironically was to provide career training for low-income young people ages 16 through 24 in such trades as construction, is months behind schedule and the center’s 480 students may have to wait nearly another year before they can use the new facility.

After spending $4.8 million in federal stimulus funds, the construction site consists only of cement-slab foundations with some steel framing for two of three planned buildings and the underground infrastructure, but no foundation for a third building.

The project has been plagued by “unforeseen and extraordinary pre-existing poor site conditions,” said Labor Department spokesman Michael Volpe, adding that training continues for all the vocational trades at the center’s existing buildings.

The project has been stalled since last summer, when the corner of one of the foundations collapsed owing to “slope failure,” which officials blamed on heavy rains and poor soil conditions. Department officials said the slope’s collapse has become a time-consuming, $1.7 million problem to fix. At the same time, federal officials found defective concrete in the foundations and ordered the contractor to fix it.

In December 2009, the Labor Department awarded the original $5.5 million contract for the three buildings to Management Strategies Inc. (MSI), a Connecticut firm, under a special competition set aside for small businesses. MSI’s owner, Mahesh Reddy, was qualified by the Small Business Administration (SBA) as a disadvantaged minority because he is a U.S. citizen of Indian descent.

Mr. Reddy declined to comment on the project, forwarding emails from the Labor Department directing him to refer The Washington Times to its office.

The project was supposed to be substantially completed by March 2012, but as of April 26, only 53 percent was finished, according to the Labor Department. The department says the project should be completed by March 2013.

Last summer, the department ordered MSI to fix the defective concrete work at its own expense, saying there were problems with “slab and footing thicknesses, mispositioned and absent reinforcing steel, and detected voids in some areas.” Mr. Volpe said the problems were fixed except for an area around the perimeter of Building C — an issue that needs to be resolved before construction can continue.

OTB Contracting, a Manassas company hired as a subcontractor to repair the defective concrete, says MSI owes it $21,900 for work it did last summer, although MSI disputes the amount. Baruch Gedalia, OTB’s vice president and chief operating officer, said he thinks the company is trying to get “the Department of Labor to pay,” although the agency has said it is MSI’s responsibility to pay the cost of the repairs.

Forrest Environmental Services Inc., a Herndon subcontractor, says it is owed $10,000 by MSI for testing it did last summer with ground-penetrating radar to check the integrity of the concrete-foundation slabs. The company’s president, Andrew Forrest, said MSI was “not happy with the report” that found “a lot of issues” with some of the original concrete work.

Mr. Volpe said the Labor Department is trying to determine if the government should charge MSI damages for any potential delays caused by the contractor. But in the end, he said, the department had to pay an additional $1.77 million to MSI over the original contract cost to stabilize, replace and reconstruct the property’s southeast and southwest slopes.

Other contract changes resulted in more than $900,000 in additional costs, according to Mr. Volpe.

The Potomac Job Corps Center, one of 125 such centers nationwide, was set up in 1978 and serves 480 students — 95 percent of whom live on campus. The average graduate stays just over a year, and 84 percent were placed in employment, higher education or the military in 2010. It costs about $32,000 a year to educate, train, counsel and house a student, according to a Job Corps fact sheet.

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