BY NATHAN DUKE
A lack of sufficient oversight of construction managers has cost the city millions of dollars and led to long-delayed projects—including several in Queens, according to an audit by the city comptroller’s office.
Comptroller Scott Stringer’s audit found that inadequate oversight by the Parks Department cost the city nearly $5 million and that approximately 40 percent of construction projects managed by private firms were completed late, resulting in delays of up to three years.
Additionally, the city paid an extra 35 percent in management fees for late projects.
“As a parent and a New Yorker, I know how important parks are to our communities,” Stringer said. “I also know that when it comes to our budget, every penny counts. The Department of Parks and Recreation cannot shell out millions to private contractors without keeping careful watch of results—the bill is coming out of the taxpayer’s pocket and it’s hurting our families who rely on these greenspaces. It’s time for commonsense solutions and oversight that will save money for taxpayers and get our parks improved faster.”
The comptroller’s audit also included a number of proposals that, if adopted, Stringer believes would improve the Parks Department’s oversight of projects, cut delays and save taxpayers money.
In a letter to Marjorie Landa, the deputy comptroller of audit, Therese Braddick—the Parks Department’s deputy commissioner for capital projects—wrote, “Parks disagrees with the report’s accuracy and many of its findings and conclusions, and also believes the report does not provide a timely, useful analysis toward the enhancement of program operations. Parks’ concerns in this regard were conveyed during the exit conference as we hoped to address the material points of disagreement. However, it does not seem that these points are reflected in the report.”
In her letter, Braddick noted that a number of the capital construction projects referenced in the comptroller’s report had begun years before and, as a result, were “reflective of outdated systems and policies.”
In Queens, several projects were noted by the comptroller’s office to have run way over budget and been delayed for completion. The cost overrun for the Olmsted Center Annex, located along Roosevelt Avenue in Flushing Meadows Corona Park, was $269,320, and the project’s schedule was delayed by 459 days.
Greenstreet Construction in Queens and Brooklyn went 152 percent—or $268,658—over budget and the project was delayed by 624 days. And a lack of oversight and appropriate maintenance at Northeast Queens’ Alley Pond Park was evidenced by the presence of an invasive species—which could obstruct the growth of new plantings and diminish recreational use of areas of the park, according to the audit.
A spokeswoman for the comptroller said that some smaller projects in the borough—such as the prevention of weed overgrowth or the upkeep of metal grates around trees—were also not being properly maintained, despite the city’s having already paid for the projects.
The audit found that the Parks Department did not have proper protocols in place to monitor construction managers, and that work performed by the agency’s Forestry Division often had conditions that indicated contractors were not performing required maintenance for which the city had already paid.
During the course of the audit, the comptroller’s office reviewed 69 privately managed capital projects—such as the Battery Park Carousel and bikeway as well as street-greening projects—in the Parks Department’s Capital and Forestry divisions that were underway between fiscal years 2014 and 2015.
Stringer noted that construction managers are paid on an hourly-rate basis and, therefore, delayed projects increased Parks’ spending on managerial costs from $13 million to $18 million to cover additional—and avoidable—hours billed by the construction managers.
According to the audit, delays were caused by a variety of failures in all stages of the construction and management process—including a lack of attendance by necessary stakeholders at pre-construction meetings arranged by the Parks Department and inadequate communication with those not in attendance, which led to timely pre-construction requirements, such as obtaining permits and protecting gas and water lines. In one case, a Queens Greenstreets project was delayed by nearly 300 days.
Other oversight failures discovered in the audit included incomplete and inaccurate records maintained by the Parks Department; missing hard-copy records of essential documents; and poor oversight of construction managers, delaying the timely “closeout” of substantially completed projects.
Costs for work on the Battery Park Carousel tripled from $446,000 to $1.4 million for construction manager services as delays stretched for more than 1,050 days. The audit found that 76 percent of the delay was a result of failed oversight and involved incomplete designs and an inability to obtain building permits in a timely manner.
The cost of the Battery Park Bikeway Project jumped from $440,000 to $1.25 million and the project was delayed 635 days. The audit found that 61 percent of the delays were preventable.
In his report, Stringer made 25 recommendations for the Parks Department on how to better oversee construction managers and prevent additional costs and delays, including the preparation of written policies to establish standards for the oversight of construction managers; issuing a construction supervision manual to the managers that specifies responsibilities and performance standards; developing written standard operating procedures with checklists to ensure that necessary approvals and permits with regulatory agencies are in place prior to the start of construction; and requiring construction managers to complete closeouts within prescribed time frames.
Reach editor-in-chief Nathan Duke via email at email@example.com or by phone at (718) 357-7400, ext. 122.