After nearly nine months of construction, the broken steps outside of the University of Rhode Island’s iconic Green Hall are set to be completed by commencement in May.

“We are near completion,” Assistant Vice President for Business Services J. Vernon Wyman said.

The project began in the fall and was slated to be completed by mid-January. However, the job was not completed on time because the original contractor, Hugo Key and Son, went bankrupt halfway through construction, according to Director of Capital Projects Paul DePace.

“Hugo Key and Son did work up until early march,” DePace said. “We were hoping they could have finished the job, but they reached the end before we did.”

This isn’t the first time HK&S has had trouble completing a construction job. In June 2015, the company was responsible for an excavator that tipped over on a barge while working on repairs to Block Island’s Old Harbor. According to a Cassius Shuman article in the Block Island Times, HK&S’s insurance footed the bill for the mishap.

Both Wyman and DePace said that despite this, the University still felt that HK&S could adequately finish the job. The company was the lowest bidder on the project, and has worked previously with URI on projects at the Kingston and Alton Jones campuses.

“By the time that it happened, we already placed the purchase order with them,” DePace said. “I can tell you that we were very concerned when HK&S came in about them being able to complete [the construction].”

DePace added that the company did have the bonding company to provide a bond, which is like an insurance policy in case the construction company can’t finish the job. In a pre-award scoping review with HK&S, the university and the Rhode Island Division of Purchases walked the company through the job specifications and determined that they were able to complete the project.   

“The Division of Purchases knew that HK&S had troubles in past,” DePace said. “They told us that HK&S was still viable contractor, and had not been debarred or restricted from doing any work for the state of Rhode Island.”

There was no reason, since they provided the bonding company, that URI could withhold the contract from the company.

“This was all taken into account,” said Wyman. “We felt they were able to complete the work, and that did not prove to be the case.”

According to Wyman, as soon as HK&S went bankrupt, the University was notified immediately and cashed in the bond money from the contractor.

When the project began in the fall, the original cost estimate was about $195,000. Upon further inspection, contractors realized the stairs had more damage, and the project’s cost was raised to $200,000.

Now, the University is in the process of paying HK&S’s receiver, or its legal counsel representing the firm, by order of the Rhode Island State Court. The University paid the receiver, not HK&S, $122,000 of the $200,000 for the work they did complete on the stairs. Although the University’s legal counsel is still working through the details with HK&S, the remaining project costs will most likely be covered by bonded funds, Wyman said.

“Is it more complicated than it should be? Yes,” DePace said.

In the meantime, URI chose East Coast Masonry of Johnston, Rhode Island, to complete the project. They were the second-lowest bidder on the original project.

Water damage from a broken drainage pipe eroded the stairs’ concrete foundations. Contractors had to pull up all of the heavy granite stairs and remove the railings. Now that the foundation is complete, all that’s left to do are the finishings, Wyman said.

Contractors must lay new Rubbertech paving stones for the stairway patio, replace the bronze handrails, and wire walkway lights around the area. Additionally, the grounds around the steps must be re-turfed and reestablished with the landscape, said DePace.


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Emma Gauthier
Emma is a senior journalism and English double major with a minor in political science from Cape Cod, Massachusetts. She has worked for the Cigar since her first semester at URI as a staff reporter, then web editor, news editor and finally Editor in Chief. Emma also edits for the URI research magazine, Momentum, and hopes to find a career in political reporting upon her graduation in May.