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The Ultimate Library Fine

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The new Central Library in downtown Indianapolis ran two years and $50 million dollars over budget. Now, the courts will decide who is at fault and who has to pay.

For five years, this story has pained taxpayers in Marion county. The Indianapolis Star reported yesterday on the scale of the problem:

Early in the project, in 2004, large gaps and cracks were discovered as formwork was removed from the two-level garage’s concrete beams and columns. Library officials, themselves accused of lax oversight, halted construction in March 2004.

The library claims that [engineering firm] Thornton Tomasetti and a managing principal, Joseph G. Burns, created deficient designs and then concealed the flaws. In particular, the library claims the firm misrepresented the reasons behind a substantial change order that resulted in more reinforcing steel being inserted into the garage’s concrete, contributing to holes in the beams and columns.

A financial consultant to the library recently blamed Thornton Tomasetti for a $24.3 million share of the costs arising from the problems, an amount an attorney for the firm called absurd.

On the one hand, it seems incredulous that we cannot reliably plan and execute civic buildings like public libraries. Civilization has thousands of years of experience in construction, and engineers, architects and contractors have successfully built millions of buildings, many thousands of them as large as the new Central Library.

Indianapolis Library

© Flickr user cherrylet

On the other hand, if you have been to the building, you can instantly recognize the unusual and progressive design features. Soaring columns arch into the lobby. Level after level of books rest on the northern end of the foundation. Although this edifice is similar to every other modern, large public building, it is also entirely unique. The existence of distinct challenges should be no surprise, even if the unexpected $50 million dollar surcharge is too much to bear.

Placing blame for the time and cost overruns is a complex matter. However, you do not need a team of experts with graduate degrees to understand that process failures can dramatically impact stakeholders. In fact, the article explains the main problem in just a few words: the assertion that the engineering firm “created deficient designs and then concealed the flaws.” This was not just a mistake, claims the library, but a cover-up.

As The Methodology Blog has covered before, failure is not only a reality but is often better than constant success. In fact, keeping secrets is often not a great business strategy.

If you, your employees or your organization makes mistakes but has trouble admitting to problems to seek resolution and improvement, talk to the business improvement experts at AccelaWork. Challenges in embracing the value of failure as an opportunity to enact positive change often arise can be addressed. We’d love to help.

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