Downtown Berkeley BART plaza construction, May 8, 2018. All photos: Tracey Taylor

A dispute between the contractor building the new downtown Berkeley BART plaza and two subcontractors, as well as unexpected rain, has pushed the opening of the plaza until mid-August, almost a year after it was originally scheduled to open.

One disgruntled key subcontractor hasn’t done any work on the project since April 6 and the other is working intermittently, according to James K. Allison, BART’s media relations manager, who added he did not know any details about the dispute.

But the project manager for USS Cal Builders, which holds the $7.6 million contract, disputed that characterization.

“Everything is moving along right now,” said Terrence Gilfillian.

After the rainy 2016-2017 winter caused substantial delays, USS Cal Builders removed one project manager and installed Gilfillian instead, he said. Gilfillian has doubled the crew size, meaning as many as 25 people are working on the project at once. They are also working longer hours and on weekends.

“Since I took over last November we have accelerated the schedule,” he said.

The renovations around the Center Street entrance to BART should be done by the end of June, with the total project completed by August, said Gilfillian.

BART is penalizing contractor for delays

The delays mean BART has started to assess liquidated damages against USS Cal Builders as allowed by the contract, according to one BART insider who asked to remain anonymous. The insider did not know the amount of those penalties.

The delay should not cost the public any more money, as the contractor guaranteed to complete the project for the bid price, said Allison.

John Caner, CEO of the Downtown Berkeley Association, had not heard about the dispute between the contractor and subcontractors Wednesday, and he expressed concern that it might delay the opening of the plaza even more. The DBA has already moved the date for the opening celebration four times. Initially, it was March, then April, then June and it currently is Aug. 16, he said.

Farid Javandel, Berkeley’s transportation manager, said BART had told him that the liquidated damages part of the contract had gone into effect.

“We would be extremely concerned if it got pushed out again because we need that plaza when school gets back in session,” said Caner.

Officials hope that the renovated Berkeley BART plaza will become the centerpiece and focal point of downtown. It serves as a gateway for Berkeley as thousands of people use the downtown Berkeley BART station every day, including students and others heading to the the UC Berkeley campus.

A rendering of what the new BART plaza will look like. Image: BART

The renovation removed the old rotunda and replaces it with a glass arch. There will be new pavers, better lighting and a space for events. Merchants are being encouraged to set tables and chairs out on the sidewalks. Many street people used to hang in the plaza and the renovations are designed to discourage them from lying on benches, a move that many activists felt unfairly discriminated against people who don’t have homes or places to go during the day.

This is the second set of delays for plaza renovation project. In July, BART acknowledged that the renovation project was six months behind schedule because there had been 50 rain days in the winter of 2016-2017. At that time, BART said the new plaza would be done by early 2018. The original completion date was Sept. 2017.

The rain in April pushed back the opening date some more, said Allison.

BART officials have been working closely with USS Cal Builders to make sure the project gets completed as quickly as possible, said Javandel.

“BART has really been focusing very carefully on it,” he said. “I have an appreciation for the efforts they are making to try and manage the delays and get the project delivered. I think they have some pretty competent people working on it.”

BART Director Rebecca Saltzman told Berkeleyside she was not aware of the new delays. She said she intended to confer with BART staff and would get back to us.

Frances Dinkelspiel, Berkeleyside and CItyside co-founder, is a journalist and author. Her first book, Towers of Gold: How One Jewish Immigrant Named Isaias Hellman Created California, published in November...