Pinellas County won’t wait on lawsuit to fix Public Safety Complex

Cracks have developed in the exteriors walls at the Pinellas County Emergency Operations Center on Ulmerton Road, which is also home to the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office, The paint has also faded on the entire facility. The county spent $81 million to build the center, which opened in 2014. [SCOTT KEELER   |   Times]
Cracks have developed in the exteriors walls at the Pinellas County Emergency Operations Center on Ulmerton Road, which is also home to the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office, The paint has also faded on the entire facility. The county spent $81 million to build the center, which opened in 2014. [SCOTT KEELER | Times]
Published August 8
Updated August 16

Pinellas County officials don't plan to wait for a court to decide who's to blame for cracks in the walls of their four-year-old Public Safety Complex before fixing them.

In a memo County Administrator Mark Woodard sent to commissioners this week, he said forensic engineers will have to take "boring samples" from the walls to determine what caused exterior cracks in the $81 million building and premature fading of paint on the walls.

"It is not staffs intentions to await the outcome of the lawsuit to affect repairs," Woodard wrote.

He stressed that the building's integrity is sound, even with all the problems.

"There has never been a cause for concern that there were structural issues that may have caused the building's storm rating to be called into question," the memo said.

Fingers are now being pointed over who is responsible for the cracks in a complex that was built to withstand a Category 5 hurricane. The problems have already cost taxpayers at least $200,000.

In June, the county filed a lawsuit against St. Petersbug-based Harvard Jolly and general contractor Lend Lease US Construction (formerly Bovis), PTAC Consulting Engineers and engineer William Lovell, Jr., according to a court filing. The lawsuit accused Harvard Jolly of negligently designing the building and failing to supervise its construction. Harvard Jolly blamed the problems on the other companies.

Woodard also told commissioners that an outside law firm has been hired to represent the county in the lawsuit.

Last month, Sheriff Bob Gualtieri called the building an "embarrassment" and said it looked like a "dump."

When Hurricane Irma slammed Florida last year, hundreds of first responders worked inside Pinellas County's Public Safety Complex.

But deputies had to worry about their own safety. As rain and wind pummeled the region, deputies used buckets to collect water as it poured through the cracked walls across the rear of the second floor.

The exterior paint is failing at the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office on Ulmerton Road. The $81 million complex was built in 2014 and is also home to the Pinellas County Emergency Operations Center. The county is suing the designer and contractors who built the complex. [SCOTT KEELER | Times]
The exterior paint is failing at the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office on Ulmerton Road. The $81 million complex was built in 2014 and is also home to the Pinellas County Emergency Operations Center. The county is suing the designer and contractors who built the complex. [SCOTT KEELER | Times]
The campus, conceived years ago following the 2004 hurricane season, opened in 2014. It houses the Sheriff’s Office, the Emergency Operations Center, Emergency Medical Services and the 911 dispatch center. The command center’s first real test came during Irma in September 2017.

The complex — once hailed as a signature project of the Penny for Pinellas 1-cent sales tax — is at the center of a lawsuit over shoddy workmanship. The county is suing the building designer and three contractors who worked on the project.

Officials never expected an onslaught of deficiencies so soon after the building opened.

Cracks have developed throughout the exterior walls of the 218,403-square-foot main building, energy plant and vehicle maintenance facility. Water leaks have deteriorated some exterior door and window frames and damaged interior fixtures.

The leaks also stopped electronic-locking devices from working on exterior doors. There is rust on some door and window frames. Paint is peeling and drywall is turning brown from water damage near 15 to 20 sets of windows.

Contact Mark Puente at [email protected] or (727) 892-2996. Follow @MarkPuente.

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