Former Public Safety Director Frank Straub was in such a rush to get the Regional Operations Center on Indianapolis’ eastside open in time for the Super Bowl last year that apparently the city and the contractor cut significant construction and safety corners that will cost taxpayers millions of dollars in the years to come.
Straub signed a deal with 401-Public Safety, LLC, and the managing partner Alex Carroll in May of 2011 committing the city to pay $18 million over 25 years to lease the space at the former Eastgate Consumer Mall on North Shadeland Avenue.
In his haste to open the building by the time of Super Bowl XLVI last February, Straub signed away typical safeguards to allow the city to vacate the lease or force the landlord to pay for ongoing maintenance costs.
“That was a concern of mine because that was an additional cost that we needed to budget for,” said current Deputy Public Safety Director Valerie Washington, who did not work for Straub at the time the contract was drawn up. “For a building this size, that is about $300-350,000 (a year) to maintain.”
Washington said roof repairs, parking lot repaving, plumbing issues, the types of costs a landlord typically pays, were shifted to the city.
“It was very disheartening to see that we had signed away those rights,” Washington said.
Unlike new home construction, where an owner does a final walk through with a builder before accepting the keys and handing over the check, apparently there was no punch list with the developer at the ROC.
“We’ve come up with a punch list,” said IMPD Deputy Chief Valerie Cunningham, who has had officers housed in the building since last May. “We essentially had to recreate a lot of things.
“The plans say one thing but the construction was not done to the plans so it’s not as functional as it should be.”
While in some parts of the building walls were not constructed, electrical outlets and drinking fountains not installed, air return vents were too small, dry wall is separating, floors are uneven, concrete is cracking and receptionists can’t talk to visitors, nowhere are the construction shortcomings more apparent or potentially dangerous than the lack of a certified fire suppression system.
“Currently we’re still waiting on the plans to get some approved plans for the fire protection system,” said IFD Fire Marshal Fred Pervine.
Pervine said no one from his office inspected the construction or asked to review plans for a sprinkler and emergency warning system until last October after the building had already been open and occupied for several months.
“We have plans reviewed. We have a gentleman who reviews all the plans and what they do…they look at the exiting distance, they look at the system that is put in so they review them prior to construction,” said Pervine. “For the most part, in a normal system, that’s how that should work.
“I don’t have any documentation that we did a plan review prior to the construction of this building.
“Some of the information didn’t get passed along very well.”
Pervine said he requested an engineer’s report on the fire suppression system last October.
Developer Alex Carroll has yet to comply with that request.
As a results, IFD has spent $55,000 paying firefighters overtime to physically walk the building around the clock as a firewatch.
The city thinks Carroll should have to pay that bill.
“We understand that the Department of Public Safety is on the hook for ongoing maintenance of the building,” said Washington, “but as far as getting the building up to the way we had expected it to be constructed and up to building plans, I believe that onus is on the landlord.”
Washington and new Public Safety Director Troy Riggs will try to fix the building, bill the developer and make the best of a bad contract negotiated by Straub without city legal or city controller oversight.
“Director Riggs and I are coming in and taking over this project,” said Washington. “It appears there was no consistent documentation and tracking.
“I had to create a punch list. I was not able to locate one. I had seen different scraps on pieces of paper and different notes on some of the issues but there was not one committed document that outlined all of the issues so we had to create all of that.”
Washington said there was no single designated point person on the project and some officials who worked on the ROC are no longer employed by the city.
“At this time it is difficult to get information on past documents and who was making all the decisions.”
Regarding surveillance cameras, which are not the landlord’s responsibility, 25 of 104 cameras trained on key city locations are not operating.
That is a record number of non-functioning cameras.
Bad weather and the age and electronic temperament of the cameras are to blame, said Homeland Security officials.
A new contract signed with a maintenance company last fall is starting to bite into the backlog of repair work.
The developer, Alex Carroll, told Fox59 News the city is technically in default since it hasn’t paid its first month’s rent yet. The Department of Code Enforcement has the fire sprinkler plan.
The city is paying maintenance costs because Carroll gave them a price break on the lease agreement and Mayor Ballard and the City-County Council signed off on the contract.