Fresno Chaffee Zoo Corp. agreed Thursday night to settle a lingering money dispute with contractor Harris Construction over the company’s work on the zoo’s African Adventure exhibit, which opened more than a year ago.
The amount in dispute was about $2 million – 5 percent of the roughly $40 million construction bill. Harris claimed that the withheld money was keeping its subcontractors from being fully paid for their work.
But zoo corporation officials said the project wasn’t finished, although they declined to disclose what work remained other than to say none of the work affected health or safety.
On Thursday night, following a closed session, Fresno Chaffee Zoo Corp. board President John Valentino gave a brief statement acknowledging the board’s approval of a “settlement agreement, which was borne out of mediation.” The terms were not announced, other than that the withheld money would be released.
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The zoo corporation and Harris officials held a mediation session last week and reached an accord. The funding still must be ratified by the Fresno County Zoo Authority, which releases funds at the zoo corporation’s request.
Harris claimed the retention money should have been paid by the end of March and the two sides exchanged letters until October before agreeing to a mediation process.
In an October 2016 letter to zoo officials, David Parkes, Harris president and CEO, said the company had many subcontractors who weren’t fully paid.
Valentino said at the time that the zoo corporation wouldn’t part with money until it knows the work has been done and other issues are addressed. At the same time, he noted that African Adventure came in on budget and “we are generally pleased with the outcome of exhibit.”
African Adventure opened in October 2015, a major expansion of the zoo that has helped draw crowds. More than 1 million people have visited the zoo since then.
$2 millionThe amount retained by Fresno Chaffee Zoo Corp. following completion of African Adventure
The issue came to light after an October 2016 letter from Parkes was sent to Harris’ subcontractors, telling them the company hadn’t yet been paid the remaining money owed to them.
Company officials explained then that were some “outstanding issues” and estimated nearly three dozen subcontractors were missing some part of their payment.
The letter took a more strident tone than an earlier letter, suggesting that zoo officials weren’t cooperating with Harris.
“For these matters to not be resolved a year after the project is completed is inexcusable,” Parkes’ letter said.
In a joint statement issued Thursday night by Harris Construction and the zoo corporation board, both sides acknowledged that they “encountered a few obstacles on the project, a situation not uncommon on large and complex projects.”