Work temporarily has halted on the expansion and renovation of the Pitt County Animal Shelter on County Home Road, according to county officials.

The Pitt County Board of Commissioners, at its meeting Monday night, voted unanimously to direct the county attorney Janis Gallagher to declare contract default by the project’s builders, Burney & Burney Construction Co. Inc.

“With any contract, especially a construction contract, we put out a performance bond, and the performance bond allows us to review certain areas and if (the contractor is) in breach of those areas, then we can essentially contact the bonding company and that is pretty much what the board directed us to do,” Brian Barnett, deputy county manager and chief financial officer said in an interview following the meeting.

“As part of calling in the bond, the bonding agency is going to require that operations cease,” Barnett said.

Barnett specified that the contract with Burney & Burney has not been canceled. The only thing being canceled at this point is work on the project, so that the bonding agency can start its due diligence process with the contractor, he said.

Even though they’re not the ones with the hammers and the nails, the bonding company in essence becomes the general contractor, according to Barnett.

The county’s problems with Burney & Burney are related to the delay of the project’s completion, Barnett said.

The $1.93 million expansion and renovation project began in April of 2018 and was supposed to be completed in four phases in a one-year period, he said.

The first phase has consisted of construction of a new kennel area that will house dogs and puppies available for adoption in separate spaces. It also includes two interior “get acquainted” areas and two additional restrooms.

This portion of the project was scheduled to be completed in six months, which meant by the end of October 2018. Instead, the first phase has taken 18 months, Barnett said.

“Right now we are in the final review of Phase 1,” he said.

As the first phase of the project was coming to an end, county staff thought it was appropriate to give an update to the board, Barnett said.

“It’s (the staff’s) responsibility to make (the board) aware of the last 18 months in Phase 1 that should’ve taken six months before we move into Phases 2, 3 and 4 that could have a harmful impact to service delivery,” he said.

The first phase has had very little involvement with animal services, Barnett said, but the next three phases will.

Phases 2, 3 and 4 involve renovations of the current facilities, such as a new cat adoption area, expanded cat-holding area, an intake area, an office for the shelter attendants and space for the animal control offices.

In these phases, animals will need to be moved.

The last three phases combined are supposed to take another six months, Barnett said. “(But) based on our history this past 18 months, there was general concern about that interruption of service.

“We have state requirements that we have to meet, especially now that we are going to interrupt some operations, and we cannot fall into violation with the state while we do this project,” he said.

Barnett said that the county has tried to work with the contractor regarding issues that occurred in the first phase.

“I’m not glad that we had to come to this point,” Barnett said.

The halting of construction has not slowed down the current operation of the animal shelter, he said.

Also, at this point the delay in construction has been more of an inconvenience than a financial issue, Barnett said.

For construction projects, the county sets aside the funds from the first day and the contractor periodically invoices the county, he said. A percentage of every payout is held until the end. That way the money is retained. The contractor has to work within the confines of the payments.

The county has not overpaid the contractor for the first phase, Barnett said.

Barnett said that once the bond agency gets involved, there will be a little bit of time when there’s no productivity. But after the bond agency does its due diligence with the contractor, the project should move forward on schedule.

He said he did not know exactly when that would be, estimating it could be a couple of weeks or months.

However, once construction resumes, the remaining phases should be completed in six months, Barnett said.

It’s up to the bonding agency to bring in a contractor who can get the job done based on the specifications for the project, he said.

Karen Eckert can be reached at 252-329-9565 or at keckert@reflector.com.