Almost anyone who has ever had work done on their home knows that few projects come without some unexpected problems.
But in an effort to avoid expensive cost overruns — such as the ones at the Silver Spring Transit Center — the Montgomery County Council is looking at ways it can reduce the number of changes made to the facilities the county builds while they’re under construction.
The county builds projects such as libraries, police and fire stations, and recreation centers very well, but it tends to run into trouble when it tries to address unusual projects in the usual ways, said David Dise, director of the county’s Department of General Services.
“We do what we normally do very well,” Dise said Thursday at a meeting of the council’s Government Operations and Fiscal Policy Committee.
The committee was discussing a report from the Office of Legislative Oversight on the effect of change orders — directives that require a contractor working on a project to change a portion of the work specified under the contract for the project — on county construction jobs.
The report included three recommendations for the council to take action on:
• To ask that General Services develop a process to assess the risks of capital budget projects,
• To ask that General Services use different ways to manage the procurement and contracting process on projects that carry a high risk of expensive changes, and
• To encourage General Services to continue to collect and monitor data on change orders on projects to try and identify trends and factors that increase the chance of cost increases and delays.
Change orders can be caused by a variety of factors, according to the legislative oversight report.
On one project, a construction contractor the county had worked with on other projects went out of business while it was working on a county project.
In another case, a previously reliable vendor provided the county with faulty building materials, while on another project the Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission changed code requirements while a capital project was being built.
The transit center project in downtown Silver Spring wasn’t mentioned at the hearing, but the project has been crippled by delays and problems.
The county released information in November that the project had been subject to more than 400 proposed change orders, included approved orders worth $10.8 million.
The Department of General Services is already doing some of the steps recommended in the report, Dise said.
For instance, the department reviews project sites to try and identify potential problems with sites before a project starts.
Renovations and rehabilitations cause more of a problem in this area because crews aren’t able to test an area as much as they could with a site that doesn’t already have a building on it, Dise said.
Dise said the county does evaluate things such as the safety record, payment histories and the number of modifications that previous projects have needed when it’s looking for a company to work on a project.
They also talk with other people or jurisdictions who have worked with the company in the past, he said.
After about an hour of discussion, committee Chairwoman Nancy Navarro (D-Dist. 4) of Silver Spring said she would like the committee to have some more discussion on the issue before it makes a recommendation to the full council on action to help avoid the need for change orders on projects.
No date for a future meeting was set.