Epoxy Still Oozing in Williamson County
Williamson Co. Attorney Gene Taylor says he has now received a report from the independent engineer hired by the county to determine who is responsible for the failure of the epoxy-sealed floors at the county's unfinished $19.9 million Juvenile Justice Center. Taylor said the report will not be made public, pending litigation, and that he still expects the county to file a lawsuit against Austin-based flooring subcontractor Sunrise Commercial Painting (at which time, presumably, the report will become part of public court record). Sunrise Vice-President Nemesio Sanchez continues to maintain his company sealed the floors last November under protest, and at the insistence of the general contractor, FT Woods Construction Services Inc. (See "Money for Nothing," Aug. 15.) In late August, Sunrise's insurer Utica Mutual informed FT Woods that its adjuster's investigation has concluded that the epoxy-coated floors failed -- as Sunrise claims -- due to excessive moisture rising through the concrete foundation.
To date, FT Woods has received more than $411,000 in monthly late payments from the county for the JJC project, now more than a year overdue. According to the contract, the construction manager receives $37,000 per month in late payments only if the project has been delayed through no fault of FT Woods. Although the independent engineering report has only recently been completed, some time ago County Attorney Taylor and FT Woods had already laid blame for the "fisheye" floor bubbling upon subcontractor Sunrise. Yet a memo obtained by the Chronicle, written by a consultant FT Woods asked to inspect the floors, suggests that laying blame for the faulty flooring may not be the straightforward matter Taylor has thus far represented.
USA Floor-Tec Inc. representative Jason Keathly told us he prepared the memo for FT Woods some time in late March -- two months after FT Woods said it discovered the bubbling floors, and less than a month after FT Woods first laid blame on Sunrise for the failure. In his memo, Keathly noted that he met with Woods at the JJC to "inspect the flooring" and to "address concerns" about the epoxy failure. "As you may recall, my first observation upon entering the facility was that a moisture problem existed," Keathly wrote. Discoloration around "saw cut joints" led Keathly to believe "there was moisture passing through the concrete." Keathly asked whether moisture tests had been performed and was told that testing had indeed yielded high moisture readings.
Keathly's conclusions are unequivocal. "I understand that there was some concern whether the contractor had correctly installed the epoxy flooring," he wrote. "It is my opinion that the problems are not due to installation errors. ... I believe that moisture migration that far exceeds the manufacturer recommendation for this type of epoxy floor is the sole reason for floor failure."
USA Floor-Tec specializes in epoxy floor installation and has previously done subcontracting work on FT Woods-managed projects, Keathly said in a recent interview. When FT Woods asked the company to inspect the JJC floors, Keathly says, he was "hesitant" to make the determination of why the flooring failed, partly because he wasn't told what kinds of tests had been performed on the concrete-slab floor prior to the epoxy installation, or when the tests were performed. Nonetheless, Keathly says that from what he saw at the JJC, "moisture migration" through the slab, not the epoxy installation, appeared to be the root cause of failure. He adds that had his company been handling the flooring subcontract, he would've prepared the slab "aggressively" with a shot-blasting technique instead of an acid etching, the method Sunrise used. Still, he said, a different floor prep technique wouldn't necessarily mean that the flooring would not fail from excessive moisture -- that determination would rely on the results of any moisture tests taken prior to prep and installation. "If there was a smoking gun anywhere," he said, "it would be in who did the moisture readings before [installation] and what [the results] were."
It appears the one thing that FT Woods and Sunrise agree on is that a number of moisture tests were taken prior to installing the floors, and that a number of those tests revealed excessive moisture coming through the slab. When FT Woods first knew about the potential problem remains, however, under dispute. Last month, in response to questions submitted by the Chronicle, FT Woods supplied a chronology of the events surrounding the epoxy installation, and said, among other things, that until Nov. 11, 2002 -- the date of a memo from Sunrise to FT Woods -- it was unaware of any potential moisture problems. But that memo, by Sunrise Projects Manager Ray Sipple, suggests the construction manager must have had previous knowledge, because Sipple is in fact updating the general contractor on the "status of emission testing" on the floors. Sipple references three sets of tests, the second set having occurred on Nov. 9. Sunrise VP Sanchez says that his company began testing floors on Oct. 6, verbally notified FT Woods about moisture concerns beginning at that time, and has the test results to support his story.
Asked whether the Keathly memo and other correspondence between FT Woods and Sunrise might be important elements to consider in determining who is at fault for the JJC flooring failure, County Attorney Taylor said that although he has read "some" of the documents, he hasn't changed his mind about who is to blame. "No," he said, "it doesn't persuade me at all."