Northern Branch Jail construction Santa Maria
Construction of Santa Barbara County’s Northern Branch Jail project is 90 percent complete. Rosser International Inc., the engineering company that had been working on the facility before abruptly going out of business, has operated webcams of the site, with one of the views seen here. (Courtesy photo)

In the wake of the architectural and engineering firm for the unfinished Northern Branch Jail project going out of business, the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors voted Tuesday to increase the contract for its construction management firm to pick up the slack. 

The county also has filed a civil lawsuit in Superior Court for breach of contract, alleging that Rosser International Inc. has caused project delays and increased costs. 

Atlanta-based Rosser International notified the county on June 13 that it was “going out of business” and “effective immediately will no longer be providing services” for the jail project, according to county General Services staff.

Rosser notified the county by phone call, “and yes, it was abrupt,” Skip Grey, assistant director of the General Services Department, said in an email.

That was one week after the supervisors approved a contract extension for Rosser because of the extended construction of the jail, increasing the amount by $220,000 and pushing the term through 2020.

Construction of the 376-bed jail at 2301 Black Road is about 90 percent complete, with the end date now estimated for December.

The $111 million construction cost includes $80 million in state grant funding. The county will face an estimated $19.3 million per year in operating costs once the jail opens.

The county is using Kitchell CEM Inc. for construction management and other services on the jail project, and General Services asked the Board of Supervisors to increase that company’s contract to add architectural, engineering and professional design services.

Santa Barbara County’s staff architect served as the architect of record on the project as an interim measure between Rosser pulling out and Kitchell CEM taking over, the county said in a statement.

The Kitchell contract agreement that the supervisors approved Tuesday increases the total contract maximum to $4,582,689 and lengthens the term by four months, to Dec. 4, 2020.

The county has amended Kitchell’s agreement several times since the $2.27 million 2013 contract. Rosser’s 2013 contract amount of $5.4 million was increased to $5.7 million, but it’s now expected to cost no more than $5.3 million.  

About $360,000 budgeted for Rosser’s contract, but unspent, will be used to offset the increased cost of Kitchell’s contract amendment, according to the county.

Rosser’s live webcams of the jail construction site were still running as of Wednesday.

The Board of Supervisors will need to approve a budget revision at a future meeting to include funding for the change, “along with any other known additional project costs,” according to General Services staff.

Grey said the county is working to minimize impacts to the schedule from the change, adding that Rosser is not contracted by the county for any other current or recent projects.

Santa Barbara County filed a civil case against Rosser International on Friday for unlimited breach of contract/warranty, according to Superior Court records. 

The case was filed by county counsel Michael Ghizzoni and attorney Robert Owen of Costa Mesa-based Rutan & Tucker.

In the complaint, Santa Barbara County alleges that Rosser and its subconsultants failed to perform numerous duties of its professional services agreement for the jail project: “This has caused significant delays to project completion, has cost the county millions of dollars in extra costs and current and impending change orders, and has exposed the county to potential claims from its general contractor.”

Rosser allegedly submitted plans with incorrect mechanical smoke dampers, caused a delay in the state fire marshal’s approval, “which delayed project bidding by 287 days,” and had missing design details including incomplete electrical circuits and references to Georgia Power instead of Pacific Gas & Electric, which serves the Santa Maria area.

“Essentially, Rosser’s design is incomplete and appears to have been performed to approximately 80 percent completion and then never fully completed,” the complaint alleges. “The design deficiencies have caused significant delays and potential multimillion-dollar change orders, as well as other significant project cost increases.”

More delays and costs will come from the June announcement that Rosser is going out of business, the complaint alleges.

The county is suing for breach of contract and professional negligence, and asks the court for damages and reimbursement for the costs incurred “by reason of defective services” under the professional service agreement and the civil case.

Rosser had not filed a response in court as of Wednesday, and a case management conference is scheduled for November. 

Santa Barbara County filed a case with the same breach-of-contract allegations against Rosser last November, but it was dismissed a month later, according to Superior Court documents.

Noozhawk managing editor Giana Magnoli can be reached at Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.