April 25, 2013 – David Dise

Minutes of the Taxpayers League Meeting – April 25, 2013

Speaker:  David Dise, Director of Montgomery County’s Department of General Services

On April 25th, the Taxpayers League meeting featured David Dise, Director of Montgomery County’s Department of General Services. The Department is responsible for a combination of public works and transportation for the County. The Taxpayers League’s members had submitted a number of questions to Mr. Dise in advance and engaged in a discussion of a wide range of issues related to the Silver Spring Transit Center. Several of the topics related to costs and management: “What is the difference between the original projected cost for the Silver Spring Transit Center and the estimated final costs?”; “How can the methodology be improved to keep projects on schedule?”; “How can benefits expected from a project be less heavily weighted in favor of the business partners?”; and, “What is the role of inspectors in the Permits Division on such projects, and how can more timely escalation of management issues take place?”

 An initial question addressed to Mr. Dise requested that he talk about the Transit Center which has been featured in the Washington Post with concerns about it being unsafe, unsound, unusable and experiencing significant cost overruns as well as providing some background on what his department does. A preliminary proposal for the Silver Spring Transit Center was developed in 1999 and was estimated to cost $35M. The original proposal was totally different from the ultimate design and development of the current project that was initiated in 2006-2007. After a competition in which two bids were received (Clark and Foulger-Pratt), an award of $66.5M was made to Foulger-Pratt in 2009. More recent cost estimates have risen to $109M and currently are projected to be $120M or more.

The original cost was a substantial underestimate and several of the factors contributing to this difference according to Mr. Dise were:

  1. Test borings encountered more rock than anticipated
  2. Duct work for conduit for Pepco had to be re-located and had to be deeper
  3. “huge challenges” in re-locating water and sewer lines
  4. Then encountered telephone and fiber optic that had to be accommodated

With the Center project still not completed and two years behind schedule, the County is looking at faults/flaws in several areas:

  1. Concrete core samples (from trucks and from site – how and where cured?) water and air affects cure time and may weaken the concrete
  2. Concrete not of sufficient strength – possible water involvement
  3. Problems were encountered with rebar and post tensioning cable (9 strands of wire)
  4. Consultant suggested that concrete is over or under tensioning requirements
  5. An enumeration of several issues:
    1. In October 2011 noticed concrete flaking and the plastic tubing (casing for cable) was exposed
    2. The concrete was supposed to be 10 inches thick – some is 8 or 8.5 inches thick
    3. Quality of the concrete is inadequate (how did water and air get into the mix?); uneven mix
    4. Contractor or engineers may have over or under designed the facility

For several years Robert B. Balter has provided inspections and materials testing oversight for the project.

Mr. Dise noted that KCE Structural Engineers provided oversight for this project as well. He indicated that his office had received 1400 RFIs (request for information) from Foulger-Pratt on this project; whereas, a typical project would involve several hundred or fewer RFIs. He said the transit Center’s completion date was supposed to have been a year and a half ago, and his focus now is on getting it done safely with appropriate durability, etc. The Transit Center was projected to have a 50 year life, but current estimates anticipate only a 12 year life.

In response to a question about the CIP (Capital Improvement Projects), Mr. Dise indicated that over a six year period a $4 billion CIP entailed slightly over one-half addressing Montgomery County Public Schools projects and approximately $1.8 billion for County facilities. In response to another inquiry he said that no Federal money was involved in the Silver Spring Transit Center project; however, the County did receive a $4M grant from the State for this project. All the other funding is from Montgomery County.

In response to a question regarding whether or not Fachina (the concrete company) utilized union or non-union employees were utilized and whether they are equally qualified in terms of training and experience, Mr. Dise did not think they used union employees, and noted that they are a nationally known and respected firm. Mr. Dise said “clearly the quality of the concrete is inadequate”, noted that the mixes were uneven and wondered how water and air got into the mix.

Mr. Dise mentioned that the County’s Inspector General was looking at the Transit Center project but that no action has been taken yet. He mentioned that his office has 15 other projects underway at present and that almost all are on schedule with the exception of the Gaithersburg library which is being held up because of required storm water system changes.

Two other Department of General Services projects were referenced in closing. They are both $80M projects; one for Fleet Management (dump trucks, trailers and snow plows) and another for the Judiciary Center. Design work entails about 10% of the ultimate project cost.