Santa Clara County, Calif., announced Sept. 17 that it had issued Turner Construction Co. a “notice of termination” of Turner’s right to finish work on an overbudget and behind-schedule county hospital expansion project in San Jose.

Related Links:
Notice to Turner
Santa Clara County's State Court Complaint Against Turner

The county says that it hasn’t terminated its contract with Turner and all that various contract clauses obligate Turner to do. It also filed a lawsuit against Turner in Calif. state court in San Jose.

In the complaint the county notes that Turner is both the designer and builder for portions of the project scope and that, following disputes between the county and Turner over buildings codes, workplace safety and quality, Turner allegedly failed to perform some of its contractually delegated design-build, “design assist and pre-construction” and building information modeling duties.

The county has in recent months issued two lengthy notices of default to Turner on the $300-million project. County officials have also made numerous public accusations and criticisms of Turner. Among them was the posting of a video of the moments a year ago when a worker on part of the project narrowly escaped injury from an accidental steam release—proof, the county claimed, of lax practices.

“All that is left to do now is issue a notice of termination,” declared Jeff Smith, Santa Clara County Executive, several days ago. “This is going to move pretty fast, I see a decision within the next ten days.”

On Sept. 11th, county sheriffs locked Turner, its subcontractors and 200 employees out of the jobsite.

And on Sept. 17th the county issued what it seemed to portray as a grave turning point in matters in the termination of Turner’s permission to work saying, as it had in its prior statements, that the contractor had understaffed the project and failed to issue plans for completing the work.

Now that the decision has come, and the anger level seems to have reached a higher pitch, the legal aspects of the relationship no doubt will become the focus of much costly attention by attorneys.

Change Orders and Delays

Turner spokesman Christopher McFadden says that, in addition to releasing inaccurate accusations, the county has failed to produce final drawings on a job that has had more than 800 change orders and 1,500 days of owner-caused delays.

Some of the big change orders date back to 2010 and 2011, in the project’s earlier phases.

Turner says 90% of the work is complete.

But Turner is clearly unhappy with the county’s approach to design decisions, which the contractor claims have been slower-developing than the old-growth forests of northern California.

Numerous times, says McFadden, the county granted Turner schedule adjustments and additional compensation required because of the numerous changes.

Evidence of the county’s failure to provide timely and adequate direction is abundant, says Turner. For example, the contractor says, suspending work in the hospital's pharmacy as the county made changes to the design led to a 754-day delay to on the pharmacy.

Suspending work in the administration area as county officials considered making changes led to 428 days of delay of that work, according to Turner.

Prolonger by Paper Towel Holders

In addition, Turner cited the decision-making process regarding the selection of tile and the hanging of paper-towel holders and soap dispensers in patient bathrooms as causing two years worth of delays on virtually every patient room.

Specifically, Turner claims that the failure on the part of the county to provide timely and adequate direction for work as basic as tile design has directly resulted in significant impacts and changes to more substantial and involved scopes of work including framing, backing, sink specifications, and tile in 168 patient bathrooms.

Santa Clara County broke ground on the project, meant to modernize and expand the existing San Jose, Calif., hospital in 2009. The new 168-room bed building is intended to relieve crowding and make the existing Santa Clara Medical Center more competitive.

In the county’s August default notice, county officials claimed the relationship with Turner had deteriorated into a “chess game.” Jeff Smith, the county executive, pointed out that Turner had had “cameras” and “attorneys taking notes” at the jobsite.

The county claims that its volume of change orders, 800 or more, is normal for similar hospital projects. That claim could not immediately be verified.