Credit: Darrow Montgomery

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The chief of D.C.’s Department of General Services knew as early as September 2017 that MCN Build, the general contractor hired to oversee the construction of two homeless shelters in wards 7 and 8, was “behind schedule” on the project in Ward 7, communications between DGS and MCN show.

City Paper received copies of these communications, which include internal DGS emails and letters submitted between the two bodies, through a Freedom of Information Act request. Then-DGS Director Greer Gillis told councilmembers while she was under oath at a June 2018 Council roundtable that she did not learn of the delays until February 2018.

In a September 29, 2017 letter sent by the Department of General Services’ Contracts and Procurement Division to Bassem Boustany, the project manager on the Ward 7 homeless shelter, DGS’ George Lewis wrote:

“This letter serves as a notice to MCN Build, LLC, (MCN) the Construction Manager of record for the above-referenced project regarding the delays in the delivery of the Ward 7 Short Term Family Housing project.

Pursuant to Article 4, Section 4.20 of Contract No. DCAM-17-CS-002A, this letter serves as a request for issuance of a recovery plan, with the intent of the project schedule proceeding in accordance with the critical path schedule.

The Ward 7 Short Term Family Housing project is of extreme importance to the Department of General Services (DGS) and the Department of Human Services (DHS), but most importantly to the residents of Ward 7 and the District as a whole. As such, there are several other projects, including the demolition of the DC General Hospital, that are contingent on this project being delivered on time. 

As of September 25, 2017, MCN is nearly three (3) months behind schedule on this Project. DGS is greatly concerned that without a solid recovery plan, future schedule milestones may be missed, ultimately putting the project at risk of not achieving the contractual substantial completion date of August 31, 2018.”

Gillis, along with DGS’ general counsel and chief operating officer, was copied on the letter. (Gillis was removed as chief of DGS last fall, and was approved in December to join D.C.’s Public Service Commission. Representatives from DGS and the Public Service Commission did not immediately respond to City Paper‘s request for comment.)

City Paper reported in June 2018 that top officials at DGS, including Gillis, had known since at least February of that year that the shelter projects in wards 7 and 8 were “significantly behind schedule,” according to DGS’ own characterization of the delays. 

City Paper’s reporting showed that the subcontractor responsible for building the prefabricated modules and delivering them, Z Modular, was a functionally brand new company with little history in modular construction at the time it signed on to complete the projects. By March of 2018, agency leaders floated the idea of cutting ties with the companies it hired to oversee construction of the shelters.

In June, after City Paper published its report, Ward 1 and Ward 3 Councilmembers Brianne Nadeau and Mary Cheh held a joint roundtable for their respective committees to question Gillis and DHS Director Laura Zeilinger, along with other DGS officials, about the delays.

In her first question to Gillis, who was under oath, Nadeau asked: “Director Gillis, when did the agency first sense that the construction of the wards 7 and 8 sites might be behind schedule?” Gillis replied, “Chairwoman, we first learned of this, and really was concerned about the production schedule, in February of this year.”

Nadeau asked in response, “What action was taken at that time to address the concern?” Gillis replied: “In that action, we actually engaged our general contractor and asked them to provide us with a recovery schedule.”

In fact, DGS first asked MCN Build to provide the agency with a recovery schedule in October of 2017, the documents obtained by City Paper show. 

Gillis later referred to City Paper’s reporting as “sensationalism.”

Replying to DGS’ letter in September of 2017, MCN Build’s senior project manager Frank Lefler wrote that it “maintains that we are not behind on the project. MCN cedes that earlier, preliminary, published dates have been missed and interim milestones delayed due to the nature of the process of Modularizing the Ward 7 project, however this does not necessitate that the project itself is behind schedule or that the substantial completion is currently at risk of delay.”

Lefler continued:

“Further it should be stated that, while DGS’ assertion that these interim milestone delays are due to the redesign efforts related to the modularization process is accurate, it is also incomplete. The genesis for the delay of these milestones extends much further back. The initial and primary contributing factor for the majority of the project delay lies in the change of this project’s published procurement method from Design-build to GMP … nearly all the project milestones shifted as a result of this initial change in procurement.”

In the months since the Ward 7 shelter, dubbed “The Horizon,” opened last fall, the District has also had to terminate the contract of Life Deeds, the company hired to oversee its day-to-day operations, after the company allegedly falsified the background checks and drug screens of some shelter staff and other personnel.

DGS is also currently overseeing the construction of four other homeless shelters in wards 1, 3, 5, and 6. 

We will continue to update this post.