News

Cost of new Mitchell Park Library continues to climb

Project remains below budget but recent changes are pushing up price tag

The new Mitchell Park Library and Community Center is slated to open this fall as scheduled, but the city's concerns over who is responsible for the project's cost overruns are expected to drag on well after the new library is built.

The project's projected price tag remains, at $41.6 million, well below the engineering estimate of $49 million. But a slew of recent changes to the construction contract have irked members of the City Council, who asked staff in September to issue monthly updates on the ambitious project. On Monday, the council will consider the first major change order since that meeting -- a request by the city's contractor, Flintco Construction, for an additional $278,710 to pay for tube steel that was omitted from the architectural plans.

While cost overruns are far from uncommon in the construction business, the high number of change orders associated with the Mitchell Park project has prompted concern from the council, which reluctantly agreed in September to raise the "contingency" budget for the project from 10 percent to 20 percent to cover unexpected costs. It has also prompted closed-door discussions among city officials about who is responsible for the rising costs and whether any legal action from the city is justified.

Palo Alto had also hired consultants to vet the change orders and help the city assess its legal options. According to a new report from Phil Bobel, interim assistant director of Public Works, a consultant has reviewed the latest request and "determined that Flintco is entitled to additional compensation" and that the amount in the new change order is "reasonable and justified."

The money will be used for material and labor costs associated with "tube steel around windows and openings that was not clearly delineated in the plans," Bobel wrote.

The latest request raises the number of change orders the city has received for the Mitchell Park library to 15. Together, the change orders total nearly $2 million.

Bobel told the Weekly that Flintco has actually asked for about $660,000 in its latest change order and that staff had determined that only about half of this amount is justified. Even the amount that the city has approved, he noted, remains far below the $6 million in change-order requests that it had received from Flintco.

The question of who is at fault for the rising costs -- whether it's Flintco; the construction manager, Turner Construction; the architect, Group 4 Architecture; or the city itself -- will be resolved after the project is completed, Bobel said.

"What we're focusing on now is getting the building built," he said. "We'll sort out change orders later. We don't think this (dispute) will have a material effect on the future library."

Comments

 +   Like this comment
Posted by David Pepperdine
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 9, 2012 at 11:43 am

Common sense says that you allow a minimum of 5% for change orders on any construction project. So the city thought it was immune to this?


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Cost overruns
a resident of South of Midtown
on Mar 9, 2012 at 12:03 pm

I last read that the cost overruns were $4 million. Now it is $6 million in requests?
The scandal, and the incompetence all around should be determined NOW, not later, when the public is o-o-hing and a-a-hing and the children are high on sugar, running around and smiling.
No coverups please, on this fiasco.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by architect
a resident of Midtown
on Mar 9, 2012 at 12:56 pm

i can't help but think it's mostly the architect's fault for not having a complete set of drawings.

or it's the city's fault for continuing to use this architect...


 +   Like this comment
Posted by John Kidd
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Mar 9, 2012 at 12:56 pm

The quote "We'll sort out change orders later. We don't think this (dispute) will have a material effect on the future library." is an invitation to REAL trouble. Postponing the process of getting a hold of the problem will only make it harder, and more expensive, to solve. Isn't the City paying a handsome fee to a Construction Manager to stay on top of these things?


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Posted by Cost overruns
a resident of South of Midtown
on Mar 9, 2012 at 1:49 pm

Yes we are paying a Construction Manager.
We need the details N O W! Not later when the facts will be buried in pages and pages of spreadsheets and no one will want to go through it. If we don't get an accounting NOW we should not pay NOW.
Clearly the early specs should have been caught. Sounds like a lot of highly paid people dropped the ball and we are having to pay for their mistakes.
THEY should pay for their mistakes. Or $247,000 Manager Keene, who oversees big projects, or $183,534 Dir. of Public Works, James Sartor.
Enough of city coverups.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Peter Mueller
a resident of Barron Park
on Mar 9, 2012 at 3:11 pm

Is there too much knee jerk sensitivity being expressed here?
Overall there seems to be an under run so far.

Isn't it natural as one sees the actual shape emerging, and with technological advances in desirable features since the building was conceived a few years ago that there would be cost changes to fit them and corrections in now, as compared to having something to modify or change later?




 +   Like this comment
Posted by Terry
a resident of Midtown
on Mar 9, 2012 at 6:34 pm

I would like to know who is responsible for such a B**T-UGLY building design.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Palo-Alto-Builds-Another-White-Elephant
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 10, 2012 at 7:57 am

> I would like to know who is responsible for such a
> B**T-UGLY building design.

The architectural firm was: Group 4 (San Jose). It was approved by the City Council, and all of the supporters of this massive waste of money.

The City Council did not object in any meaningful way. Group 4 called it a "Gateway to the park" design.

Hopefully, people will take note of this monstrosity, and remind any/all associated with this project just how bad their opinions of public building design turned out to be.

Keep in mind, that architects tend to get about 7% of the price of the project--so the bigger the building, the larger the fee for folks like Group 4.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Cost overruns
a resident of South of Midtown
on Mar 10, 2012 at 1:50 pm

>architects tend to get about 7% of the price of the project
So they might get 7% of the cost overruns caused by their malfeasance?


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Palo-Alto-Builds-Another-White-Elephant
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 11, 2012 at 9:46 am

> So they might get 7% of the cost overruns caused by
> their malfeasance?

Interesting question. If they are involved in doing any of the design for the change orders--the answer is probably yes. As to exactly how much they have received for the total project, that would take a full audit of the total construction project. Don't forget that they have been involved for a while. Well over a million was spent coming up with preliminary plans in the past. What's really annoying is that none of these costs are every assigned to a tally of costs associated with running the library. It might take a little work, but for some years there are probably more than a million dollars spent on library operations that do not show up on the accounting for library expenditures.

One of the problems with government projects is that generally no one (other than the taxpayers) ever seems to be "responsible" for the project, from both a completion point-of-view, and a cost-management point of view.

The Planning and P/W people have been involved in this project, as has the City Manager and Finance people. Yet, it would be hard to find anyone who has one of those "the buck stops here" signs on his desk. There is supposed to be a residents' "oversight committee" involved, but these sorts of groups are always chaired by "yes men", or people who have no idea how to evaluate construction projects. Even if they were to spot something, they have not authority to do anything but write a memo to the City Council--that has no obligation to read the memo, much less take action on anything that might be identified by such a group.

The City Auditor is unlikely to do anything with the project (if we even had a City Auditor), and so .. projects like this become little more than a "fattened goose", or pinata, for all of the various actors who line up with their hands out--looking to tap the never ending stream of public funds for their own benefit.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by John
a resident of Meadow Park
on Mar 11, 2012 at 3:52 pm

The stream of public funds ie taxpayers is drying up.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Library bond
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 11, 2012 at 10:58 pm

The bond measure far exceeded the cost of the library so one way or another the contractor is going to get that money!!!


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Terry
a resident of Midtown
on Mar 12, 2012 at 9:06 pm

I have never voted for Palo Alto's White-Elephant building lust, but I can imagine one exception. I would support tearing down this pile of crap, selling it for scrap, and then replacing it with the original building designs which were far more appropriate for the area.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by trudy
a resident of Crescent Park
on Mar 13, 2012 at 3:10 am

Is there a link to a final appearance drawing some where? All I can see is it looks huge compared to the old library.

(Don't blame me for voting for this, I've been away.)


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Common Sense
a resident of Palo Verde
on Mar 13, 2012 at 8:44 am

I can't help to think it is the fault of the architect as well as the Contractor itself, Flintco. Just another example of why you don't always go with the low bid, AND when the city doesn't require the payment of prevailing wages on their projects attracts a whole host of non-desirables (not to mention out of the area, how about using a local)to the bidding process. You get what you pay for! That's what you get when money is the bottom line.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Dave Hood
a resident of Crescent Park
on May 22, 2013 at 12:06 pm

And the new main library is going to cost $22.6M? Even if it comes in on budget (fat chance!), for that price, we expect it to have gold-plated plumbing.

Say $100k to demolish the old one. Say $3M to build a new glass and steel building, big enough to hold as many books as today (unlike the actual plan). That leaves close to $20M for incompetence, mismanagement, graft and corruption.

We expect incompetence, mismanagement, graft and corruption to be expensive, and it's true that Palo Altans never yet met a tax they didn't like, but surely even Palo Alto has a limit?


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