Work on a new CVS Pharmacy building in Wellington’s Town Square shopping plaza has been stalled since last spring due to structural problems, and Wellington officials this week gave the construction company working on the building 15 days to fix all the deficiencies or tear down the existing portion of the building and remove it.
The problem-plagued project was halted abruptly in May when an incorrect concrete roof pour developed a cracking issue. Village officials have since been grappling with the deficiencies and the failure of the builder to adhere to the approved plans during the construction.
“We are giving them 15 days to fix or demolish and remove the structure, based on the fact that several letters that we received from them are insufficient, and it has been since May 8 when the incident with the roof happened,” Wellington Building Official Jacek Tomasik told the Town-Crier on Wednesday. “Now we are in November, and [all] the problems have not been identified and the fixes have not been submitted.”
The 15-day ultimatum is just one of the ways that Wellington is working to get a permanent fix for the dangerous eyesore.
Tomasik said that during several meetings and on-site visits this week, submitted documents by the contractor were inadequate, information was withheld on additional deficiencies and no adequate plan was offered to fix the deficiencies.
“After we reviewed the documents that they submitted, they were completely insufficient,” Tomasik said. “We scheduled a meeting on the site because we had concerns about the structural integrity… [there] we discovered significant [additional] structural deficiencies on the building.”
Originally slated to open in July, the project was supposed to provide new retail space for CVS Pharmacy in central Wellington. It is part of a phased renovation to the Town Square shopping center. As part of the years-long project, the Provident Jewelry store was added, Publix was renovated and a building along Forest Hill Blvd. was demolished to allow CVS to relocate from an in-line store to a stand-alone building.
Failure of the contractor to adhere to the design specifications for the roof came to light when it collapsed in May, when the contractor, without approval and inspection from the village, poured the lightweight roof concrete.
Village residents have complained that an unsightly mess in the construction area has become a hardship for businesses and customers alike. A continuing struggle with the inconvenience of limited access and inadequate parking has customers avoiding stores in the shopping center, affecting the bottom line now and perhaps in the future as customers become habituated to frequenting other stores.
Many have voiced questions about when the village will make the builder take the responsible action and repair or remove the structure so the overall project can be completed.
“We have been actually working on it for a long time,” said Tomasik, who noted that the legalities and permit requirements take time in these situations. “There’s a lot of things that have to be done, but there’s nothing we can do overnight. The entire village staff has been working on this and getting things moved forward, but we are not the construction team, we are the regulatory team.”
The CVS relocation project, which went to Pinnacle Construction, has been complicated from the start.
The construction project entailed modifications that included demolishing the existing liquor store, constructing a new entrance from Forest Hill Blvd. and additional new parking.
Wellington building officials issued the permit for the CVS store in July 2018 and the first inspections occurred in January 2019. Work progressed until May when the roof fell in, quite literally.
Despite being advised by the village that the roof steel joists required inspection and approval by the contractor’s special inspector, and that independent review is required by the Florida Building Code, that special inspector authorized the concrete pour by phone without physically inspecting the support system. The roof system failed when the pour started. The failure to inspect and the failure to follow the approved plan created a potentially dangerous situation.
With a collapsed roof and uncertain structural integrity of the remainder of the building, Wellington’s Building Department was left with no option other than declaring the building unsafe.
The contractor was immediately ordered to provide engineering studies to show how the building could be made safe for workers to perform work in and around the building while the failed roofing system was removed and replaced with a code-compliant and safe system.
Inspections of the exterior walls revealed additional deficiencies and deviations from the approved plans and the Florida Building Code.
Further inspections also raised concerns about incomplete steel connections necessary for lateral stabilization of the exterior walls. The contractor submitted a temporary bracing plan for removal of the roof and to make the structure safe. However, the Building Department rejected the temporary plan because of deficiencies.
Wellington’s building officials advised the contractor that complete and correct plans to remedy all of the building’s problems would be required prior to the removal and replacement of the failed roof system. The village also required the contractor to hire a structural engineer to address the problems. That engineer, who identified additional deficiencies, was dismissed by the contractor, according to a timeline provided by the village.
Wellington’s building officials then required that a qualified replacement engineer be hired prior to any additional work. Revised plans were rejected by the village as inadequate and potentially damaging to public property. The contractor has since been instructed to hire a forensic engineer to determine all the deficiencies and submit a plan to fix each of them.
As a result of the roof failure and related building code violations, Wellington’s Building Department filed a complaint with the Department of Business and Professional Regulation and the Board of Professional Engineers against the contractor and engineer for failure to follow approved plans and failure to properly inspect work.
In an effort to protect the health and safety of the workers and the general public, as of last Monday, all construction remained stopped until complete plans that meet the requirements of the Florida Building Code are submitted to Wellington’s Building Department and approvals are completed. By Tuesday, those plans were submitted and deemed inadequate. By Wednesday morning, more deficiencies were found. That afternoon, the construction company was notified of the 15-day deadline to repair or remove the structure.
“Every time we go there, new things are discovered,” Tomasik said, reeling off a litany of deficiencies. “Wednesday, we discovered there are missing beams, missing supports, some of the columns are undersized, others haven’t been inspected yet. There are also exterior walls that are undersized, and we brought this to their attention.”
While he can’t say for sure, Tomasik believes that some of the deficiencies were known to the company, but the information was not been reported to the Building Department.
“They hired a forensic engineer, and we told them they need to go throughout the building and identify all the deficiencies — not just the ones that we’re pointing out — so, they will be testing the portions of the building that got done without inspections. There’s a portion of the building that actually was completed without scheduled inspections and that will be inspected forensically,” Tomasik said.
He does not believe that all of the problems with the structure have yet been reported.
“The forensic engineer will be preparing and submitting a list of all deficiencies and the fixes for those deficiencies to the Building Department,” Tomasik said.
Wellington’s Planning, Zoning & Building Director Bob Basehart said that the village will keep pressure on the contractor to fix the problems or remove the structure.
“We are giving them 15 days,” Basehart said. “I don’t anticipate that we would approve any extensions based on the fact that it has been so long already.”
Basehart agreed with Tomasik that the several letters received from the company are insufficient.
Pinnacle Construction can appeal the staff decision to Wellington’s Construction Board of Appeals and perhaps take legal action.
“But they would have to rule in their favor on practically everything,” Basehart said. “And I think the situation here is that the deficiencies are obvious.”
Tomasik agreed. “They have admitted to the deficiencies,” he said.