Inside City Hall: Fixing up the Benton Building gets pricey

Office renovations cost $3.1 million, or 45% above original price.

benton bldg

The Benton Building at 417 East Fayette Street.

Photo by: Mark Reutter

Renovating two floors of the ugliest-looking municipal building in Baltimore has spawned a cluster of EWOs that has hiked the fix-up price 45% above the original bid.

Yesterday, the Board of Estimates approved $614,197 in Extra Work Orders (EWOs) for repairs to the fifth and seventh floors of the Charles L. Benton Jr. Building to accommodate improved and expanded facilities of the city Department of Transportation – plus $205,656 more for upgrades to a DOT building in East Baltimore.

Notable for its severe “modernist” design (and deeply stained limestone walls), the Benton Building overlooks the War Memorial Plaza and houses a number of city agencies.

In a low bid submitted last year, J.A. Argetakis Contracting Co. agreed to renovate the two floors and the small DOT building at 6400 Pulaski Highway for $1,706,000.

That price has now ballooned to $3,101,308 due to EWOs, mostly involving changes to the two Benton Building floors.

Yesterday, the spending board signed off on already-completed improvements to the fire alarm and security system – “due to numerous thievery that occurred” – costing $91,026.76.

New Signs and Window Blinds

Other tasks not included in the original contract but paid for yesterday: removing and adding drywall, installing more telephone and network lines, buying new window blinds “since the existing blinds could not be reused,” buying new office signs since “the original signs are out of production,” improving the air conditioning system, and buying new carpeting needed at the doorways.

Then there was the cost of “additional project management and administration for all the additional work” that was somewhat shy of $202,000. (The Brew requested information on these line items, which were not disclosed in the regular Board of Estimates agenda.)

The Pulaski Highway building got an ADA-compliant pedestrian ramp, repairs to cracked foundation piers, two floor hatches to access the underside of the building, insulated ceiling tiles, ground fault and circuit breakers for its computers, and a new coat of paint “with the remaining paint from the Benton Building.”

The additional work “is due to the contract plans not providing the contractor with enough information to properly account for all of the work required as part of this project,” DOT told the spending board in its Expenditure Authorization Request form.

Chain of Approvals

The EWOs for the Benton expenditures were signed off by four administrators, including bureau head Bimal Devkota, a proxy for DOT chief Khalil Zaied and a member of the Department of Finance, before being submitted to the Board of Estimates yesterday.

However, the EWOs were not reviewed and approved by the Department of Audits or the Change Order Review Committee before the board took action yesterday, according to documents given to The Brew.

Funds for the renovations come from the motor vehicle gasoline taxes allocated to the city by Maryland.

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  • PCCP

    when will the baltimore brew understand that anytime you do rehab work it will almost ALWAYS go above the original estimate. esp when it comes to interior work. its not the contractors fault the drawings/instructions from the city were inadequate. another non story. I am not suggesting that all of the EWO’s are squeaky clean, but baltimore brew has failed time and time again to find a smoking gun.

     the big kahuna among the changes  if i had to guess would be the improvements to the HVAC. and repairing the foundation piers.

    i assume the baltimore brew wants the city to do nothing when they discover that the concrete the building is sitting on is in need of repair?


    • Gerald Neily

      PCCP, perhaps you’d be happier if the Brew let you write the story: “…anytime you do rehab work it will almost ALWAYS go above the original estimate.” With that line, you have delivered a broadside attack on the entire process. As such, who needs smoking guns?

  • Bmorepanic

    “Go over the estimate” is a phrase that implies 10-20% in my mind – not $1.4 million or an overage of about 82%.

    I do have a suspicious mindset about the constant horrendous overages.  It smells really bad to me.  What does the city’s budget actually mean when all the money is bled off into constant civil suit settlements and EWO’s.  EWO’s that are apparently used to cover up bad project descriptions, poor RFP writing, inexperience in project management, possible collusion between the vendors and city agencies to avoid bidding out contracts and having to pass budget approvals.  And this type of behavior is constant among most, if not all departments.

    It’s hard for me to ignore that to “go over the estimate” on one project = entire sum needed to fill pools and recreation centers’ budget shortages for three years.

  • Ed

    I wonder who stole all the fire alarm stuff, and where it ended up.

  • Greg

    I pass this building everyday on my way home on 83 and it is easily the ugliest thing in our skyline… I always wondered why it was allowed to look that way, and if it would ever get a facelift… Now I have my answer it is owned by the city and no, it will probably not look any better any time soon…

  • Lperkins07

    I shake my head every morning when i see this building as I enter the city from 83.  It is SO UGLY. 

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