Dirty Pool

As the Bayview waits for a rebuilt MLK pool, the project, a stated mayoral priority, keeps gobbling money and time--making it the prototypical city contracting fiasco.

After Taylor's firm left the pool job, Chiang's firm took over the concrete work. Quality problems continued to pop up. The city Department of Building Inspection complained that some of Chiang's structural steel -- used to reinforce concrete walls -- was rusty and made him throw it away. City inspectors rejected Chiang's poured concrete work on several occasions.

City records show that Overstreet, the pool's architect, has long expressed serious concerns about the quality of the concrete and steel work. Overstreet complained that Chiang used substandard material to make the forms into which concrete is poured, and that he did not test the concrete properly. When a dirt wall inside the pool collapsed as structural steel was being installed, Overstreet demanded a written assurance from Chiang "guaranteeing the structural integrity of the pool wall." After documenting a string of complaints about Chiang's concrete and structural steel work, Overstreet wrote in a memo last summer, "It appears that every week we are running into new problems. ... Our concern is one of quality and overall safety of the facility. We do not need to enumerate the vast problems we have encountered."

Chiang did not respond to telephone calls requesting comment. When approached at the pool job site, he walked away without comment. His site supervisor, Rob Ho, said he could not talk about quality problems, or why the job is a year late, because, "I don't have time. This is a construction site. Every minute is accounted for in advance."

As concrete problems continued, the city paid C.M. Construction extra money to fix the mistakes, while paying its own employees at least $800,000 to watch over the contractor. And even ignoring matters of concrete, this construction company -- and, it seems, a whole lot of people working on the MLK pool -- could use watching.

A partial list of other MLK pool ills documented in the public record would read something like this:

- When the project bogged down in August 1999, the city spent tens of thousands of dollars to buy Chiang sophisticated scheduling software manufactured by Bidcom Inc. of San Francisco. When computerization failed to bring the project up to speed, the city paid $100,000 to Don Todd Associates, a local construction management company, which assigned five people to help Chiang write a schedule. Nonetheless, Chiang continued to fall a day behind for each day he worked; that is, after he was on the job for a year, he was a year behind schedule.

- Against the strong protests of the subcontractor who installed the actual swimming pool, representatives of the Recreation and Park Department insisted on spending $50,000 extra for brass fittings in the drainage system. Dennis Berkshire of Aquatic Design Inc. (which did consulting work on the MLK pool job) says this extravagance will cause massive permanent stains on surfaces of the pool shell. He says nobody uses brass fittings in public pool construction because cheap, non-staining, plastic ones do the job just fine.

- The city spent tens of thousands of dollars extending and repouring the shallow end of the pool because it was too deep for children to play in safely.

- Dirt excavated from the hole destined to become the pool had been slated to be used as fill under the foundation. Chiang, apparently, piled the dirt haphazardly about the job site, making it difficult, sometimes impossible, for subcontractors to work. Then, the dirt got soaked in the rain, spoiling it for future use and, ultimately, costing the city $150,000 to replace.

- Three months ago, inspectors rejected "the majority of [interior] walls with colored plaster ... [they were] blotchy and had cracks." Exterior walls were seamed with 10-foot-long cracks that, Alameida, the city architect on the project, says do not endanger the pool structurally but are cosmetically undesirable and may have resulted from improperly mixed concrete.

- Chiang's firm had trouble connecting the pool to the municipal water and sewer system because the pipes specified by the architect were the wrong size.

- For some reason, the painting contract for the MLK pool has caused great controversy and bitterness.

Jim Haugabook is an African-American painting contractor whose company, Golden Gate Painting and Decorating, was subcontracted to paint the pool. Sitting in a file cabinet in a trailer at the job site is a 2-inch-thick file stuffed with a paper trail of bitter correspondence between Chiang and Haugabook.

Simply put, Chiang blames Haugabook for causing months of delay. Haugabook admits to making some mistakes, including accidentally spraying paint where it was not wanted, but he disputes most of Chiang's charges. It was impossible to be on schedule, says Haugabook, when there was no real schedule. The painter refuses to quit, which would mean losing money. Instead, he struggles along day by day, squabbling with Chiang over who is to blame for what and when and where and how much.

The amazing plenitude of problems at the MLK pool did not go unnoticed. Some city employees, clearly, tried to do something about them. But that something, for some reason, just couldn't get done.

As a city architect, Don Alameida was responsible for managing the nuts and bolts of the MLK pool project. Clearly distressed by the fiasco, his attitude in interviews seemed to shift between weary resignation, abject apology, and fear that the pool disaster would damage his career.

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