Concerns that Beverly Hills may have underestimated the cost of building its proposed multimillion-dollar civic center have prompted the City Council to appoint a four-member committee to review the project and recommend cost-cutting changes if needed.
Mayor Annabelle Heiferman asked for the committee last month after the council became concerned over the possibility of cost overruns on the construction sites. The original price tag for the project was $65 million, but some officials have expressed fears that it could go much higher.
The four committee members are attorney Fred Nicholas and developers George Konheim, Irving Daniels and Philip Shanedling.
Questions about the possibility of cost overruns first surfaced last year as a campaign issue during a City Council election. One of the candidates, Donna Ellman, said at the time that the project could run as high as $80 million and other candidates expressed similar concerns.
Ellman, who is now a councilwoman, said Thursday, "Until we have working drawings and all of the bids . . . we have nothing more than architects' estimates, and you can't build a project on an architect's estimate."
"People began to manufacture numbers," City Manager Ed Kreins said. "Every time someone would talk, the numbers would go up."
City officials said they will not have an estimate on the complete cost of the project until the end of April, when the results of a study by the project's architect and engineer are to be presented to the city.
Plans for the civic center include the expansion of the city's library and the construction of new police, fire and parking facilities and a community auditorium with a cafeteria and meeting rooms.
Contracts have been awarded and construction is already under way on the fire and parking facilities. The city is studying the possibility of awarding the remainder of the project--the police facilities, library and community auditorium--to one contractor.
"Each contractor has a certain amount of overhead built in," Kreins said. "Our hope is that we will reduce the cost of overhead by awarding to one."
The committee will be asked to work with the city staff in evaluating the project and making modifications if construction costs grow beyond the original estimate of $65 million.
"We are all concerned about the project and we want to have input from citizens who can assist the staff in doing the best job most economically," Councilwoman Charlotte Spadaro said.
For many residents and city officials, the fears of overruns seemed justified last year when the city rejected bids on the fire station after finding that builders' projected construction costs exceeded what the city had planned to spend.
City officials had hoped to build the project for about $8 million but the bids came in well above that figure. The scale of the project was reduced to hold costs to $8 million and a contractor was selected.
Kreins said that the important estimate to look at is the construction cost, not the cost of furnishing the facilities. New furnishings, he said, would be purchased periodically whether the center was built or not.