METAIRIE, LA (WVUE) - Nearly 16 years after it was first envisioned, the Jefferson Performing Arts Center could be finished later this month. FOX 8 took an exclusive look inside the building the contractor says patrons can be proud of
The curtain is finally going up, and no one's happier than general contractor Joe Caldarera, "Anyone who believes building construction is exciting and clean hasn't been building very long," he said.
The center was supposed to be finished in 2009 at a cost of $27 million, but it's now five years late and twice as expensive.
"It's not that we didn't have a handle on it," he said. "It's like building a house, and you add things - where do you find the money to do it?"
Finding that money has been a perplexing problem for parish leaders.
"We're in between a rock in a hard place, again," Jefferson Parish President John Young said in 2011.
Now, all 1100 seats are in, as is the elevating orchestra pit and a state-of-the-art sound system.
Carpet is still being laid in some areas, some fire safety items taken care of and air-conditioning adjustments are needed, but over 500 change orders later, Caldarera said the center will be turned over to the parish next week.
"We have forwarded our notice of substantial completion," Caldarera said. "We will meet the current deadline. The building is ready for occupancy October 15."
This project has created a lot of frustration for residents and politicians alike, and the contractor said he was not exempt.
"We built Zephyr stadium next door in nine months. This has taken a lot longer, " Caldarera said.
Caldarera blames new tougher building codes adopted after Hurricane Katrina for much of the higher cost.
"We have a 130 mph wind load, and that was a change," said Caldarera. "By the time it was bid and Katrina hit, there were things that needed to be done, and it wasn't anyone's fault."
And in spite of numerous calls for investigation, Caldarera said the costs are in line with similar facilities elsewhere.
Three years ago, the state legislative auditor issued a report on the performing arts center. It blamed deficiencies in planning and oversight for most of the cost overruns, and called for the state to keep closer tabs on the project.