Failed State Inspection Delays Kentucky Center’s Phone Upgrades

New cable placed throughout the Kentucky Center last year during a $100,000 telecommunications upgrades is going unused because it failed a state electrical inspection for safety reasons. 

Kentucky Center spokesperson Kim Baker says the cabling in question was deactivated after the inspector’s visit, is currently pending removal, and does not currently pose a safety risk. 

“It’s not live,” says Baker. “The advisement was to go ahead and disconnect the cable and disable it. That’s what we did.”

The electrical code requires cabling routed through air-circulating systems to be jacketed in flame-retardant material that’s safer in the event of a fire. The cable that was installed does not have the proper coating and could spread more flames and smoke if there were a fire.

The new technology was installed throughout the Main Street building last year. In December, it failed the state electrical inspection. It could be another eight months before the Kentucky Center for the Performing Arts can take advantage of its investment. 

The Center’s telephone system is currently using older cable that pre-dates the new installation, a fix authorized by Gary Feck, director of the state building codes enforcement division. But in an email to the state’s chief electrical inspector, Feck also said this doesn’t resolve the issue. 

So the cabling still has to come out. Documents obtained by WFPL show that in April, Ivy Communications (the contractor) agreed to remove the non-code-compliant cable, install the proper cable and assure code compliance.

But five months later, work has yet to begin, and Baker says the Kentucky Center still doesn’t know yet who will pay for it. The cabling project was funded by the Kentucky Center Foundation, the Center’s fundraising arm, which already paid Ivy Communications $130,000 for the installation.

“We’ve been, at this time, trying to get [Ivy Communications] to make the situation right. That’s where we are today,” Baker says.

Legal representatives of both sides are still working out details of the re-installation. Baker says the Center hopes to have the project completed in another eight months, working around normal Kentucky Center operations.

What’s Wrong With the New Cable?

The Kentucky Center’s telephone system is about 20 years old, Baker says, old enough that it’s becoming difficult to source repair parts and insufficient to handle the Kentucky Center’s business needs.

Last year, the Kentucky Center contracted with Ivy Communications, a Louisville company, to install new telecommunications cable throughout the building to help upgrade the telephone system. In December 2012, the cabling project failed a state electrical inspection.

In documents obtained by WFPL, the Kentucky Center acknowledges that state inspectors found violations in the project pertaining to type of cable installed, which can pose significant enough safety issues to lead to a stop-work order and an order to remove and replace the unsafe cabling.

State code requires compliance with the 2011 National Electric Code for a specific type of cable to be used inside interstitial spaces used for air circulation, like the space between a drop ceiling and the actual ceiling, or between layers of a raised floor—“plenum” spaces.

The cable required by the 2011 national electrical code (plenum rated cable, or CMP) is coated in flame-retardant material, optimized for low smoke generation and low flame spread. It is more expensive than alternatives, but it’s also safer in the event of a fire, igniting at a slower rate and releasing fewer toxic fumes into building air circulation.

The new cable installed in the Kentucky Center in 2012 does not meet those requirements.

Who Oversaw the Project?

In correspondence with the state’s Department of Housing, Buildings and Construction obtained by WFPL, lawyers for Ivy Communications claim that the company received no written specifications for the job, and that use of plenum-rated cable was not mentioned during project discussions, despite meeting with Kentucky Center supervisors every Monday during the duration of the job. 

The document also alleges that “Kentucky Center’s staff orally endorsed his work on a weekly basis throughout the course of the work.” 

Kentucky Center president Stephen Klein resigned last month. Klein was aware of the project at an executive level, but the project was spearheaded by the Center’s IT staff and production team, which oversees facilities and maintenance, says Baker, the Kentucky Center spokeswoman She doesn’t know how detailed their conversations were with the contractors about the types of cables needed.

“When you hire a contractor, you expect them to know code and to deliver something that is to code in the proper way and in the proper manner,” Baker says. “The idea was to get state of the art cabling installed into the Kentucky Center that was done appropriately and, one would think, to code, and that did not happen.”

Isn’t the Kentucky Center a State Agency?

Sort of. 

The Commonwealth owns the actual building, and the Center is part of the state’s Arts, Tourism and Heritage Cabinet. But the Center is not fully government-funded.

“There are some things the state pays for, and there are some things the Center pays for,” says Baker.

And when the Center pays, it doesn’t necessarily have to follow Kentucky’s Model Procurement Code, which regulates the bidding and award process of major projects. The procurement process publishes solicitations for bids for state-funded projects and detailed, often technically-specific requests for proposals (RFPs). The cabling project was paid for by the Kentucky Center Foundation, the organization’s 501(c)3 fundraising arm, so it is exempt.

According to Baker and to documents sent to the state auditor’s office by the Center’s lawyers, the Center sought cost estimates from three potential contractors for the job, and selected Ivy Communications based in part on their low bid. Baker says Ivy Communications was paid around $130,000 for the project, about $15,000 above their initial estimate.

The documents from Ivy’s lawyers state that the company “bid this job offering non-plenum cable,” which is usually the less expensive option.

Baker didn’t know whether or not the Center’s project leads understood the difference or that the company had proposed a solution that would not pass code.

The Center’s contract process is “less involved” than the state’s, Baker says, and the staff has used the cabling project as a learning opportunity, reviewing and refreshing a thorough set of purchasing procedures with attention to long-term value as a result. 

Still she says issues like this have been rare in the Center’s 30 years of operation. 

“I know that we do large projects all the time, capital projects all the time, that don’t run into a problem,” she says. “I can only assume we would follow the same sort of protocol, and that we would check references, certainly, on the individual bids and make sure the companies were reputable and they had done similar projects in the past.”

“To my knowledge, that’s what would have happened,” she adds. “That’s the way we do business.” 

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