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Officials silent on building delays

By John Geluardi Daily Planet staff
Thursday September 13, 2001

The $30 million Central Library renovation, which was originally scheduled to be completed by January, is now millions over budget, eight months overdue and library officials are not saying why. 

Despite the uncertainties surrounding the project, the new director of the Berkeley Public Library, Jackie Griffin, will ask the City Council tonight to authorize a $1 million increase to a line of credit for the project raising the city’s liability to $1.2 million. 

“The big deal is that it appears there’s no completion date,” said Mayor Shirley Dean. “I was assured there would be city oversight of this project and now I’m told there is no officially-scheduled completion date and I want to know why.” 

Deputy City Manager Phil Kamlarz said library officials have not given the city a status report since early July.  

Griffin did not return calls to the Daily Planet on Wednesday and renovation project manager, Elena Engel, did not keep a scheduled telephone interview to discuss the long construction delays or the millions in budget overruns. 

Tom Arntz, of Novato-based Arntz Builders, said completion delays were the result of unforeseen construction problems and an unusually high number of changes to project plans by the library. Arntz Builders also has a $29 million contract with the Berkeley Unified School District for a construction project at Berkeley High School. 

The main funding source for the Central Library project, at 2090 Kittredge St., came from $49 million in Measure S bond money, approved by voters in 1996. Measure S funds also helped pay for the renovation of the recently-completed Martin Luther King Jr. Civic Center building and other improvements downtown. 

Originally, when the project was being promoted to city voters, the total cost of the library renovation and expansion was $30 million. Last July in a presentation to the City Council, Engel estimated the construction phase of the project was $2 million over budget.  

According to a renovation timeline published in March, 1997, a month before construction began, the project was scheduled to be completed as early as last January. But Arntz said they will not be finished until November at the earliest, making the project 10 months overdue. 

“It’s very difficult to estimate when a construction project will be finished,” said John Rosenbrock, the city’s manager of capital projects. 

Rosenbrock said it is common in renovation projects, especially projects like the Central Library, which require a lot of detailed finish work, that small projects pile up and cause completion delays. 

He added that there were unforeseen delays during the early and middle phases of construction including a structural problem with the foundation of the building adjacent to the library and a plasterers’ strike followed by a painters’ strike.  

But Rosenbrock said despite unforeseen problems, there have been issues with Arntz Builders, which may have added to project delays. “I can’t get into them now because they are the subject of negotiations,” he said. 

Arntz said there are always problems with renovation projects but the Central Library renovation was additionally burdened by an unusually high number of plan changes. 

“We have 460 change order items on this job,” he said. “Each of these changes has to be addressed.” 

Arntz said the city’s unwillingness to pay overtime to the construction workers has added to the project delays.