UM criticizes designer of student center

The University of Maryland plans legal action to recover millions of dollars from an architectural firm that allegedly mishandled the renovation of the student center at College Park -- a project that has gone 22 percent over its original contract amount.

John D. Porcari, UM's vice president for administrative affairs, told the state Board of Public Works that faulty design work was to blame for two-thirds of the nearly $10 million in cost overruns on the project.


"This is kind of our poster child of what we don't want to happen in the future," Porcari told the board.

The student center renovation is the second major project at the College Park campus to experience serious cost overruns in recent years.


The Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center, which opened in 2001, came in $22 million over its $107 million budget, under different contractors.

Porcari, a former state transportation secretary, said the renovation of the Adele H. Stamp Student Union is an unusually complicated project because it had to be completed without closing the building. But even considering that, he said, the design work by CHK/Sasaki of Silver Spring was "woefully deficient," he said.

"We intend to pursue our legal options," said Porcari.

After hearing Porcari's explanation, the board approved an additional $4.2 million to complete the overhaul.

That money, on top of $5.7 million in previous modifications, is expected to bring the project total to about $55 million. The original contract called for the renovations to cost $45 million.

Porcari, who did not work for the university when the project ran into trouble, said the building now has 26 separate heating and air conditioning systems; after the renovation it will have one.

The renovation, which is being paid for partly through student fees, includes a new food court, restaurant, theater, ballroom and food co-op, among other features. The building is used by an estimated 18,000 students a day.

UM spokesman George Cathcart said yesterday afternoon that the Board of Regents accounted for the overruns by raising the project budget to $55 million last year. He said the building is expected to be completed in August -- 26 months late.


University officials and the general contractor, Grunley Construction Co. of Rockville, have blamed the overruns on flaws in CHK/Sasaki's project designs. They said that starting about 1999 CHK/Sasaki incorrectly sized and routed ductwork, piping, electrical lines and sprinkler pipes -- leaving insufficient room for them between floors.

Ken Grunley, president of the construction company, said the change approved by the board yesterday pays all of the company's known claims on the project.

Executives of the architecture firm, now named Torti Gallas & Partners/CHK, have denied responsibility.

They told the UM student newspaper, The Diamondback, that the delays were the fault of contractors who reviewed the plans and then were unable to execute them. Officials of the company could not be reached yesterday.

The arts center building project was also marked by accusations of shoddy design work. The university later extracted a roughly $5 million settlement from the arts center's architects, Moore, Ruble and Yudell of California and Ayers Saint Gross of Baltimore.