Macon firm upset over Tubman construction process

pramati@macon.comJune 13, 2013 

A Macon company that helped build the exterior shell of the new Tubman African America Museum claims it isn’t being given due consideration to finish the interior of the building, while Tubman officials maintain they aren’t obligated to do so.

Paul Harmon, president of Harmon Construction Inc., said at a Thursday afternoon news conference that despite several attempts to get answers from the Tubman’s board of directors, he hasn’t received a satisfactory explanation about why his company wasn’t chosen to complete the building, while Piedmont Construction -- a local company that Harmon entered into a partnership with to build the museum’s exterior -- will serve as the project’s construction manager.

Harmon said his company was never notified of the change and that there was no request-for-proposal issued by the museum for other firms to bid on the job.

Andy Ambrose, the Tubman’s executive director, said there is no legal requirement to put the construction manager’s job out for bid.

The partnership between Harmon and Piedmont -- known as Harmon-Piedmont LLC -- completed Phase 1 of the project in 2005 and was paid for the work. The work cost $6.1 million, and each company split a 6 percent fee, said Scott Thompson, vice president of Piedmont Construction. Museum construction was halted eight years ago due to a lack of money to finish the building.

Harmon said the LLC dissolved in 2008. However, Thompson said the partnership between the two companies was less than stellar.

“The agreement (for Phase 1) was never for construction of the entire building,” Thompson said. “The terms of the contract were fulfilled 100 percent and paid for 100 percent. ... Our working relationship with Harmon is not one I’d like to repeat.”

Ambrose said the museum’s board decided in January to use a single construction manager for the sake of streamlining and simplicity.

“One is better,” Ambrose said. “There’s no division of responsibilities. ... We’re going with a design-build approach. The architect and all subcontractors are under the supervision of (a single) construction manager. It makes it very clean.”

Ambrose said the museum has “no beef with Harmon” and in a May 17 letter encouraged Harmon to bid on any of the jobs that will be subcontracted out.

“In the first phase of construction when the exterior work was done, they played a key role,” Ambrose said of Harmon, which completed the brickwork and masonry on the museum’s exterior. “Where their expertise really came into play was in the first phase.”

Harmon said he assumed when construction shut down in 2005 that his company would be part of Tubman construction when it resumed.

“Our understanding was that the initial contract will continue,” he said.

Harmon noted that the Tubman is receiving $2.5 million in funding from Bibb County’s special purpose local option sales tax. Because of that, he thinks there should be a bidding process for the job and that it should be open and transparent.

When asked if he has had conversations with officials from either Macon or Bibb County about the dispute, Harmon said he had, but he declined to provide details.

John Tolliver, a former founding board member of the Tubman, said at the news conference that it’s “morally wrong” that Harmon wasn’t given an explanation about why it’s not being hired for the second phase of work.

“It flies in the face of what the Harriet Tubman legacy and museum are all about,” he said.

Harmon said he never got a meeting with the full board, Ambrose and Piedmont that he requested. Instead, Harmon said, he met with the current board chairman and vice chairman, and they didn’t give him any answers.

Harmon said he hopes the board will reconsider its decision and either add Harmon to the project to work alongside Piedmont or open the job for bids.

Ambrose said the Tubman is under no contractual or legal obligation to use Harmon beyond Phase 1.

“Our contract with them ended,” he said.

The new Tubman has been in the works for more than a decade.

The museum began fundraising for the new building in 1997 and held a groundbreaking ceremony in 2001. Construction began in earnest in 2002. The Tubman announced a new fundraising campaign in 2004, but stopped construction in 2005 when funding ran dry.

Telegraph writer Andy M. Drury contributed to this report. To contact writer Phillip Ramati, call 744-4334.

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