Page One

New Central Library is stunning, expensive and late

By John Geluardi, Daily Planet staff
Friday December 28, 2001

On April 6, when the city is scheduled to celebrate the opening of the newly renovated, 70-year-old Central Library, the project will be 17 months late and an estimated $5 million over budget. 

Berkeley Public Library Director Jackie Griffin and Manager of Capital Projects John Rosenbrock said there are fairly reasonable explanations for the some of the added costs, which will be repaid, in part, by interest earned from the voter-approved bond that funded the renovation. 

But they said other costs related to the long delay are primarily the responsibility of Arntz Builders, the project contractor. Citing poor management and under-staffing of the library construction site at 2090 Kittredge St., library officials said Arntz has been working on the project months past an October 2000 projected completion date. 

“It’s not unusual to have projects of this size go beyond their completion dates,” Rosenbrock said. “But no one plans for this amount of delay. I would describe this as unusual.” 

Rosenbrock quickly pointed out that the 17-month delay is not entirely Arntz’s fault. He said some of the delay was due to the library expanding the project after bids had been submitted and the discovery of a serious problem with the foundation of the building adjacent to the structure. Also, asbestos found in the library building had to be removed. 

Rosenbrock said library representatives allowed for those delays and moved the completion date forward nine months to July 2001. 

When Arntz was unable to complete the project by the July date, the library exercised a clause in the contract that allowed for withholding money for “liquidated damages.” 

In fact, the library has been withholding $90,000 a month from the contractor since July. These funds help pay for the rent on the temporary Central Library on Allston Way, temporary administrative offices on Kittredge Street and the storage of furniture, books and other equipment at various facilities. Currently the overall monthly project costs, including rental of alternate facilities, is estimated at $120,000. 

Griffin said that after the project is completed, Arntz and the city will have to sit down and negotiate how much of the liquidated damages withholdings the library will be able to keep. 

“The way it usually goes is that we will argue the delays are the contractors’ fault and the contractor will dispute that and say we caused the problem by changing the project plans,” Rosenbrock said. 

Arntz Builders, which also won the bid for a $36 million Berkeley High School project known as the “Milvia Buildings” – a project that is currently two months behind schedule – did not return calls from the Daily Planet on Thursday. 

Measure S 

In 1996 voters narrowly approved Measure S, which provided a $49 million bond that will be paid with city property taxes. Thirty million dollars of the bond was designated for the Central Library project and the remainder was to help fund the Martin Luther King Jr. Civic Center renovation project and downtown streetscape improvements. 

However, from the time the bond was approved to the time the actual library renovation bids began coming in two years later, the Bay Area was in the midst of a construction boom as a result of a strong economy. The result was a renovation budget that began to increase. 

“The construction market was highly competitive,” Rosenbrock said. “Contractors were overbidding because they had more work then they really needed.” 

The city was bound by the charter to accept the “lowest and most responsible bid,” which happened to be from Arntz Builders. 

When the city awarded the contract to Arntz in April 1999, the cost had risen to $33 million from increased construction costs and library project additions such as refurbishing of the stenciled ceilings in the history room and the creation of light fixtures based interior photographs taken in 1931. 

The budget was further expanded by the unexpected weakness of the foundation of the building adjacent to the library. “It had a brick foundation which is much less stable,” Rosenbrock said. “That had to be reinforced, which was delayed because of unusually rough winter weather.” 

City Budget Manager Paul Navazio said the good news about the project cost is that the $30 million bond generated $2.2 million in interest, which will go back into the project budget.  

In addition the City Council approved a loan of $1.2 million to the project to help fill funding gaps. 

According to Board of Library Trustees member Kevin James the loan will be paid back from the library’s annual budget, which comes from a special property tax approved by voters in 1980. Currently the tax raises about $8.5 million annually.  

“That money could have gone to other library projects,” James said. “Is it going to hurt us? The answer is yes.” 

The new Central Library 

When the Central Library reopens in April, it will have been expanded from 50,000 square feet to 100,000 square feet. In addition to being seismically upgraded, the library will have three times more space for the children’s section, an a expanded arts and music section, new meeting rooms and a new history room. 

In addition, the library will have much of its original interior work and furnishings, all of which have been repainted, refinished and refurbished. 

On Thursday all of the frustrations from delays and cost overruns seemed to melt away for Griffin as she walked through the building gingerly stepping around power tools, stacked slabs of concrete flooring and workers busily putting the finishing touches on the building interior. 

“Now, every time I come over here it’s like Christmas because another project is completed,” she said from under a white hard hat with her title emblazoned across the front. “We have even begun to bring some of the books out of storage and put them on shelves.”