Contractors threaten walkout

By JEREMY MEYER - THE GAZETTE

Contractors hired to renovate housing at Fort Carson say they haven't been paid in months and are threatening to walk off the job today.

The company that writes the checks Fort Carson Family Housing LLC is a subsidiary of Charlotte, N.C.-based construction giant J.A. Jones, which declared Chapter 11 bankruptcy a few weeks ago.

J.A. Jones officials did not return phone calls Monday.

Fort Carson officials said no work will be delayed because the company is bonded, meaning an insurance company will pay for the work to be finished.

Bigger questions, however, surround the $1 billion contract J.A. Jones signed in 1999, when the company agreed to renovate the 1,823 aging family housing units and build 840 units in exchange for becoming landlord for 50 years.

The project was heralded as a first for military housing. Fort Carson was the first large military installation to turn its housing over to a private company, which became possible under a 1996 change in the law.

What happens to that contract is under scrutiny.

In the meantime, contractors say they've been complaining about lack of payment for several weeks to no avail.

Now, aAbout a dozen contractors with about 80 employees say they'll walk off the job today until they're assured the money they're owed.

"You have 80 folks who are out of a job today," said Bruce Montgomery, vice president of Silver Creek Construction, which has 18 workers doing carpentry work on the renovation project.

"I haven't been paid since August. You add September's work and about two weeks of this month, and that's about 80 days total we're owed for this job. That's a half-million dollars. We don't know when we'll be paid. Right now, the work is stopped."

Apparently, work on the new housing is being paid for by the bonding company. It's the renovation work that hasn't gone to the bonding company. Fort Carson officials say it will, but the contractors say it will take a while before they get their money.

It is unclear how much of the construction work on the housing has been completed. If construction stops, it's unclear when soldiers and their families will be able to move into the new and renovated housing.

"The bigger impact is those soldiers," Montgomery said. "There won't be any apartments for them to move into."

The bankruptcy filing by J.A. Jones and two of its subsidiaries, Rea Construction Co. and J.A. Jones Construction Co., was announced Sept. 26.

The company's parent, German-based holding company Philipp Holzmann AG, also is bankrupt and has been seeking to divest for months.

This year, one of J.A. Jones' subsidiaries, Centric-Jones Inc. of Denver, stopped paying contractors working on the Interstate 25 intersection project at Woodmen Road.

Eventually, Centric-Jones' bonding agent took over the job and turned it over to Lawrence Construction. Most work on that job is expected to be finished by Jan. 20, according to highway officials.