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BROWN: Illinois Veterans Home delays may register on Richter scale

Work on a new Illinois Veterans Home, being built at 4250 N. Oak Park Ave., has been stalled by flaws in the construction as well as by the state budget impasse. | Tim Boyle/For the Sun-Times

The project to build a new Illinois Veterans Home in Chicago turns out to be way more screwed up than I’d imagined.

In addition to the previously-reported delays related to the state budget impasse, state records show the restart of construction on the 200-bed facility has been stalled by the discovery of a major design error in the original building plans.

It’s so bad the state Capital Development Board is preparing to pay to partially demolish, then redo, the incomplete five-story shell of a building under construction at 4250 N. Oak Park Avenue.

That’s right. Even what little they’ve managed to get built is no good.


Construction crews also must remove part of the building’s foundation to put in a new specially-engineered “deep foundation system.”

But they can’t even do that until they excavate and move some previously installed underground ductwork lying in the path of the redesigned foundation.

The interior of a new Illinois Veterans Home under construction at 4250 N. Oak Park Ave. | Tim Boyle/For the Sun-Times

And until most of this work is done, they can’t come up with a revised schedule and costs for the other building trades waiting to do their portion of the job.

What a cluster, uh, bomb.

How does something like this happen?

All I can tell you is the state is putting the blame on the project’s architecture firm, Harley Ellis Devereaux, for failing to comply with the agency’s “seismic requirements,” which translates to earthquake safety standards.

Leslie Strain, the Capital Development Board’s public information officer, said the architectural firm hired a contractual engineer for the project who improperly used the city of Chicago’s building codes instead of the stricter state requirements for earthquake safety as required under its contract.

“That engineer is no longer licensed with the state,” Strain said. She would not identify the engineer.

Until now, the unfinished skeletal frame was the only sign of progress on the project for which former Gov. Pat Quinn broke ground in September 2014. Just 10 months later, Gov. Bruce Rauner mothballed the worksite as part of his budget standoff with the Democratic-controlled state Legislature.

I thought money was still the main holdup, but records show the project was restarted in August 2016, then hit another roadblock with the discovery of the omitted earthquake precautions.

No explanation was offered for how the oversight went undiscovered for so long or exactly how it came to light.

But records indicate that in March 2017, the design firm acknowledged the error as well as the need to redesign the planned work. Harley Ellis Devereaux did not return my calls for comment, nor did the general contractor, IHC Construction Companies.

Construction of a new Illinois Veterans Home at 4250 N. Oak Park Ave. in Chicago has been stalled by the state budget crisis and now by problems that were discovered in the construction. Some of the concrete panels will have to be replaced. | Tim Boyle/For the Sun-Times

The planned revisions require removing large portions of the already-erected precast concrete exterior walls from the five-story tower. Altogether, an estimated 37 of the precast panels must be taken down and replaced.

In addition, concrete panels that were produced for another yet-to-be-constructed tower just west of the current one also must be redone. At least 34 of those panels will need to be demolished, records indicate.

You’re wondering what all this is going to cost you. I’m not sure.

Records show the total project budget for the Veterans Home is $92.4 million, but I have doubts the agency can still bring it in at that cost.

Then-Gov. Pat Quinn broke ground on a new Illinois Veterans Home in September 2014. Two months later, he lost to Bruce Rauner. In 2015, Rauner halted construction amid a state budget impasse. Since then, flaws discovered in the construction mean the project will take even longer and cost even more to complete. | Tim Boyle/For the Sun-Times

The Capital Development Board, which oversees construction of state buildings, has approved $3.2 million in change orders related to the design error in recent months. That doesn’t seem to include some of the major fix-up work ahead.

Strain said the agency holds Harley Ellis Devereaux “fully accountable” for the mistake.

“That includes any financial burdens that may accrue,” she said.

Despite the ongoing problems, or because of them, the agency says it still expects to reach substantial completion on the project by mid-2019.

What we’ll never know is how many elderly or infirm veterans who would have benefited from such a facility will pay an ever steeper price for this delay.

Some of the temporary braces inside an unfinished Illinois Veterans Home have begun to rust. | Tim Boyle/For the Sun-Times