Work poised to begin this fall on Laurel library branch

After nearly a year of delay, Prince George's County officials say construction on a new library for Laurel is expected to begin in about a month.

According to Floyd Holt, deputy director of the county's Office of Central Services, the current library building will be treated for asbestos and demolished within the next three to four weeks, and then construction on the new building, which will occupy the same spot beside Emancipation Park in Old Town Laurel, can begin.

The project, which has been on the books since 2005 and was initially scheduled to break ground in October 2013, experienced a round of delays in the process of choosing a contractor, according to Prince George's County Councilwoman Mary Lehman, who represents Laurel.

The library, a $14 million project, was originally slated to be built using union labor, but Lehman said she learned in an August meeting that the county's initial call for proposals had been posted without documentation informing bidders of that intent.

The goal of building the library with union labor stems back to a 2011 bill, sponsored by Councilwoman Karen Toles, which allows the county to use federally authorized craft labor agreements on construction projects worth more than $1 million.

In passing the bill, the council resolved that these contracts, called Project Labor Agreements, "provide a reliable means for ensuring that construction projects will be adequately staffed with sufficient numbers of highly skilled and properly trained craft personnel and, therefore, such agreements promote the efficient, economical and safe completion of such contracts."

The bill set a goal for the county to bid two PLA projects per year, beginning in fiscal year 2013.

According to Holt, a construction project for a new fire station in Brandywine is already moving forward as a PLA project for this fiscal year.

But NARDI Construction, the non-union, Beltsville-based contractor chosen for the Laurel library project, "was not able to secure and identify enough construction companies to fulfill the PLA requirement," Holt said.

He said the county did put out a call for union labor on the project, but had to cancel the initial award, also made to NARDI, because "ultimately there wasn't enough local labor" and the costs proposed by union subcontractors had "escalated beyond the budget appropriated for the project."

NARDI's current contract to build the library requires laborers to be paid local prevailing wages, per county law, according to Holt.

As to whether the initial request for proposals omitted any PLA documentation, Holt said: "PLAs are a fairly new issue in the county, so I won't discount that we're getting smarter and smarter as we do them, but I think the predicate on this issue was that we weren't able to identify 100 percent of the classes and labor trades that we needed to and keep the project under budget."

Several local unions did not return requests for comment by Tuesday.

If groundbreaking moves ahead as scheduled, the project would take about 16 months to build, which would mean a grand opening for the new library sometime in early 2016.

Lehman said she was anxious for the project to start.

"I made it clear to central services I don't want this project slowed down anymore," she said. "The people of the Laurel area have waited years for this library and I don't want it delayed any further."

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