ActivePaper Archive Judicial Complex fails fire inspection - Hobbs News Sun, 10/15/2019

Judicial Complex fails fire inspection

LOVINGTON — The Lea County Judicial Complex failed a fire marshal inspection last week, apparently belying the contractor’s assertion the building has a certificate of occupancy.

After beginning the fire inspection and examining only a portion of the basement Wednesday, Lovington Fire Marshal Brittany Brown stopped the inspection on the basis that what she had already found caused failure of the building to pass inspection.

“This inspection is required for the building to obtain a certificate of occupancy,” Brown wrote in her report dated Thursday.

In response to a News-Sun request for comment after the county had declared HB Construction in default of the contract to build the judicial complex, HB President Matthew Mulligan had written, “The project has had a certificate of occupancy since July 11th.”

HB and the county signed a contract in December 2016 for HB to build the facility within 575 days.

County Manager Mike Gallagher, in emails to the News-Sun, countered Mulligan’s assertion, pointing out the project had received a “temporary certificate of occupancy” from the State of New Mexico.

The five-story building is designed to house the Fifth Judicial District judges, courtrooms, the district attorney and ancillary offices.

After listing eight bullet points of non-conforming issues, including lack of ceilings, lack of fire extinguishers, improper temperature rated sprinklers and improperly placed or configured sprinkler heads, Brown’s report concluded, “At this time, these systems, in their current configuration are not ready for a final acceptance inspection.”

She cited National Fire Protection Association rules for each of the violations found.

Brown pointed out, “There are multiple sprinklers impeded due to painting operations…. Multiple sprinkler assemblies are fully impeded and covered by paper.”

Warning the Wednesday inspection only covered a part of the basement, and none of the floors above, before being halted, Brown offered to schedule another inspection once the non-conforming fire protection issues are corrected.

The fire protection inspection followed by less than a week the county’s declaration of HB Construction in default of the contract to build the facility. By contract, the judicial complex initially was expected to be occupied by Aug. 28, 2018.

The default declaration came about 400 days after the expected completion date.

Mulligan stated in his response that HB has requested a walk-through of the facility multiple times since July, but that county officials refused to comply. County officials say not only have they examined incomplete work, but they follow the advice of the architect specified in the contract.

After receiving a field report from Albuquerque-based RMKM Architects containing 46 pages of photographs showing non-conformances and 35 pages of text listing incomplete work, and the architect’s determination the county would be justified to declare HB in default, the county “pulled the trigger,” in the words of County Commissioner Dean Jackson.

“HB has not received a (certificate of occupancy) from the State of NM for the Judicial Complex. Rather, they received a temporary CO in July and failed the Oct 9, 2019 fire inspection,” Gallagher concluded in an email to the News-Sun. “A passing fire inspection is required prior to obtaining a CO.”

The next step toward completing the judicial complex is unknown as county officials await a legal response from HB Construction.

“We just want the facility we’re paying for,” said Gallagher on Friday, assuring the News-Sun the public will be notified as the project progresses.

The county already has spent about $28 million of taxpayer funds on the $30.3 million project, according to County Commission Chairwoman Rebecca Long, who concluded, “We should have been in this building in August 2018. We have four judges still, over a year later, sharing three courtrooms (in the traditional courthouse). This should never have happened.”

Curtis C. Wynne may be contacted at .