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September 25, 2008 3:00 am

Medical building still sits empty

Written by Tribune Staff

Contractor, hospital board frustrated over delays and inspection problems

So close — but so far away.

The contractor for the new medical building and Powell Hospital District board members agreed heartily on one thing on Monday: they're frustrated.

The new building is very close to completion, with only small details needed to finish it. But, because some of those small details have to do with the fire-safety system, they are keeping Powell Valley Healthcare from occupying the building.

“We're no closer to finishing the building today than we were Wednesday or Tuesday or Monday last week, or the week before,” said Shawn Warner of Sletten

Construction of Wyoming, the contractor for the building job.

On Monday, Warner told hospital district board members he is waiting on three smoke dampers, which will close air ducts in the building in the event of a fire. The smoke dampers were not ordered until recently, due to an oversight by the mechanical engineer.

The mechanical engineer is answerable to JGA Architects Engineers Planners, the architect for the project.

The company that is manufacturing the smoke dampers, which must be made to order, has told him they will be here within two weeks — but they refuse to be more specific, Warner said. That could mean a day or two, or the full two weeks, he said, and there's no way to push for a better answer without risking a delay of the entire order, he said.

After discovering the oversight last month, board members and Warner were hopeful that a state inspector would be willing to inspect the building and certify it for occupation with the understanding that the dampers would be inspected when they were installed.

But that didn't happen.

Not only did inspectors refuse to certify the building before the smoke dampers were installed, but an internal battle between two state agencies has left Warner with no information as to who will do the inspection or how quickly they will be available to do it.

“No one can figure out who's going to do the inspection on the alarm system,” Warner said.

He explained that inspection normally would be conducted locally by a building inspector or the fire marshal. But, because it is a medical facility, the responsibility shifts to the state.

Warner said the person with the state fire marshal's office who normally would inspect the system has refused to do so. Last time he inspected a medical facility, officials with the Wyoming Department of Health “handed him his head and said, ‘You will not do this. This is our job,'” Warner said.

“How do we get it resolved?” asked board member Kathy Bieke.

“We're waiting for the chief fire marshal to tell me who's going to do it,” said Rod Barton, chief executive director for Powell Valley Healthcare. “When it gets to the top, they will answer. If they can't resolve it, we will go to the governor.”

But Barton advised board members to be patient and let the issue work through the chain of command.

“If you make inspectors mad, it can cause you problems,” he said. “They may say, ‘Well, we'll do your inspection next May — maybe.'”

Warner said his employees will have the dampers installed within a day of when they arrive.

Once they are installed and a decision is made as to who will inspect the system, Barton said he hopes the inspection will be completed within about two weeks.

Meanwhile, Warner said he is keeping his workers busy fixing small things throughout the building that were identified on a punch list last week.

“We're just kind of idling and waiting for bits and pieces to clean up — things I have no control over,” he said. “Nobody is more frustrated about this than me.”
Barton noted that, because Warner is not responsible for the delay, Sletten will not incur any financial penalty for the delay. The contract with JGA does not call for a penalty in the case of a delay caused by an oversight.

“Perhaps there should have been,” he said, “but it's typically just the contractor.”

While the building sits, existing medical offices are overcrowded, particularly with the addition of three new doctors since July — when the new building was originally slated for completion.

“We've made modifications to existing buildings to accommodate more than what those buildings were originally designed to hold,” Barton said. Dr. Betsy Spomer and physician assistant Lisa Hobby are sharing an office and exam rooms.

Although the situation is not ideal, Barton said, “It's working fine. I think staff is anxious for the expanded space they see and will be available in the new building.”