ORLANDO-The architect and the joint venture general contracting group overseeing completion of the $750 million, 972,000-sf expansion of the Orange County Convention Center are being singled out in a special audit for poor public relations in handling the fifth phase of the area’s largest public construction job in 10 years.

The project is scheduled for completion in May 2003 and will bring the total size of the center to five million gross sf. The two million sf of exhibition space will make the structure one of the 10 largest in the United States.

Although the audit indicates the project will be completed on time and within budget, $15 million worth of amenities still have to be dropped. That event is expected to raise still more questions in the near future, construction industry sources intimate with the project’s details tell GlobeSt.com on condition of anonymity.

“I don’t think anybody is ripping anybody off on this project but the major players are just poor communicators,” a construction industry source tells GlobeSt.com. “Their often lack of communication leads the elected officials and the public to assume there is some under-the-table stuff being done.”

A $48,000 audit, commissioned by Orange County Chairman Richard Crotty, cites the Maitland, FL-based architectural firm of Helman, Hurley, Charvat and Peacock and the Hunt/Clark/Construct II construction management team.

The audit states the public and the five Orange County commission members should have been told in advance there wasn’t enough money in the budget for moving walkways, fountains, special landscape and 50,000 sf of meeting space.

Egerton van den Berg, a former Orange County commissioner, one-time airport authority member and one of the area’s foremost lawyers performed the audit. He criticized the fast-track method being used at the center where construction begins before final design plans are completed.

Van den Berg also warned the county it could face lawsuits totaling millions by subcontractors if any of their disputes are not resolved by the joint venture contracting group.

Tom Ackert, executive director of the convention center, defends the entire consulting team and has maintained in previous comments that the public shouldn’t have expected extra amenities to be included in the original budget. The amenities were not in the contract, Ackert maintains, making the consultants blameless.

Van den Berg disagrees. His report indicates the public and the commission were verbally promised those amenities and should have been told at some early stage of the construction that they would not be done.

GlobeSt.com couldn’t reach Ackert, the architects or the joint venture construction managers. They are Hubert, Hunt and Nichols Inc. of Indianapolis, IN; Clark Construction Group Inc. of Bethesda, MD; and Construct Two Group of Orlando.

Overseeing the contractors is O’Brien-Kreitzberg, a San Francisco management firm being paid $6 million to make sure the county and the public are getting what they’re paying for. O’Brien-Kreitzberg was not faulted in the audit.

Commissioner Mary I. Johnson triggered the audit after learning the architects and the contractors were cutting amenities that had previously been promised but not written into the contract.

Meanwhile, county comptroller Martha Haynie is ordering a financial audit of the project to determine where most of the $750 million money has been spent to date. That audit is expected to begin in November and be completed in March.

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