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Medical school subcontractor: Late $1 million payment 'ruined' him

Charlie Sorce's insulation and coatings business has done $3 million of contracted work on the University at Buffalo's new medical school, doing insulation and fireproofing over the last two years.

But he says his company, Insulation Coatings & Consultants, still is owed nearly $1.06 million from the State University Construction Fund for additional work he says was completed more than a year ago.

"They owe me a lot of money, and it's hurting me terribly," said Sorce, noting that he has 40 unionized employees working for his Sherman-based company. "I'm robbing Peter to pay Paul constantly. It's out of my pocket. My line of credit is gone. This has ruined me."

The $375 million project to build a new medical school on the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus is overseen by the State University Construction Fund. The money Sorce is seeking appears to be delayed as the state construction fund reviews change orders on the construction project, which is being managed by general contractor LPCiminelli.

Sorce says he is not getting clear answers about the holdup but has been told the amount owed to him is among other change orders on the project that have been held up by state review.

A change order is work done or deleted outside the scope of the original contract.

Neither representatives from the State University Construction Fund nor UB would answer specific questions about the outstanding payments owed to Insulation Coatings & Consultants other than to acknowledge a review of the matter is ongoing.

"I understand you may have questions, but the review is not complete, and I will have no further comment until it is," said Holly Liapis, a spokeswoman for the State University of New York, wrote in response to questions about the change orders. Liapis did not answer a detailed list of follow-up questions.

[Gallery: UB's downtown medical school nears completion]

Sorce provided The News with a copy of an email dated Feb. 22 in which a Construction Fund official acknowledged the delay.

"I came on last summer and am moving the issues as best we can. We have folks dedicated to this project alone and staff solely dedicated to reviewing and processing change orders," wrote Anne L. Garrity, regional director of design at the Construction Fund, in a Feb. 22 email that was copied to LPCiminelli Vice President William J. Mahoney. "The backlog, thanks to all involved in the process, has significantly reduced. We have changed some of our processes to enable field orders to move quicker. We will keep plugging away and ask for your continued patience."

The $375 million medical school, designed by architecture firm HOK, is slated to open later this year. The building will include state-of-the-art research laboratories, classrooms and advanced simulation centers for patient care and surgical training.

Sorce has contacted LPCiminelli, the Construction Fund, the Empire State Development Corp. and state Sen. Catharine Young, R-Olean, who represents his district. His company has logged more than 6,000 emails on the entire project.

Young said the situation "gives the state a black eye."

"It is unfortunate when a subcontractor fails to get paid due to a dispute between the state and the main contractor," she said. "I am very concerned about Mr. Sorce's business and his employees, and we need a positive outcome."

Young on Wednesday said she had her staff reached out to the "proper entities" multiple times to rectify the matter. "We've just advocated that this guy needs to get paid. We don't want him to go out of business."

LPCiminelli and UB officials also declined to answer specific questions about delayed payments.

"As the State University Construction Fund continues its review, LPCiminelli has been working closely with state officials to ensure all appropriate documentation is in place and help move the project forward to completion," the company said in a prepared statement.

LPCiminelli has been at the center of controversy during the last year as three of its top executives resigned to fight charges in a federal corruption probe regarding its contract on an unrelated Buffalo Billion project to build the SolarCity plant in South Buffalo.

UB released a one-line prepared statement when contacted by The News. "We have contacted the State University Construction Fund about this issue and we understand that they are in the process of reviewing it," UB's statement said.

Sorce, whose firm did insulation and fireproofing work on the medical school construction site, said the lack of timely payment could cost him his 40-year-old business.

"I can't get supplies for other jobs because my line of credit is gone to buy supplies. That job ate it all up," Sorce said.

Sorce said a delay in starting construction on the medical school project drove up subcontractor costs, requiring some of the change orders.

Sorce has talked with Sam Hoyt, regional president of Empire State Development Corp., about the problem. "This is clearly a matter between the SUCF, the general contractor and the subcontractor. That said, when I heard from Mr. Sorce, I spoke with colleagues in Albany who immediately contacted the SUCF to encourage them to resolve this matter as soon as possible," Hoyt said.

The State University Construction Fund – a public benefit corporation that addresses the construction and capital planning needs of the State University of New York and affiliated institutions – is overseen by a three-person Board of Trustees, one selected by the SUNY Board of Trustees and the other two nominated by the governor and confirmed by the state Senate.

Sorce remains frustrated.

"I'm 66 years old and I don't need this," he said. "I wake at 2 a.m. because I cannot sleep. They wanted the job done quickly, and we worked long hours and overtime and did all this stuff for them to get the job done fast, so they can open the school on time. And now, they don't want to pay us quick."

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