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Torrance Ponders Suit Against the Architect of Its Cultural Center

July 23, 1987|GEORGE STEIN | Times Staff Writer

Torrance officials are considering legal action against the architect of the city's long-awaited Cultural Center after construction bids came in more than 50% over the budget.

"We cannot accept the bids," Mayor Katy Geissert said Tuesday.

The nature of the possible legal action was not disclosed.

The city told the architect, Wendell Mounce, to design a project that would cost about $11 million and he produced detailed drawings and specifications for contractors to bid on.

The two bids submitted for the project were for $16.7 million and $18.2 million.

Asked about the bids, Councilman Mark Wirth clutched his chest and groaned: "I'm unhappy. I don't understand it. I don't know what we are going to do about it."

Mounce declined to comment.

One of the two bidders said the high costs were due to exotic stage equipment requested by the city in a 500-seat theater that is the centerpiece of the project and said the city and architect may have been unrealistic.

"You can buy a Ford or a Cadillac," said Don MacGregor, vice president of Shirley Bros. Inc. of Pasadena, which submitted the $18.2-million bid. "It is possible to give them a facility for their budget, but it may not be what they want."

The low bid was offered by Nielsen Construction Corp. of Irvine. No Nielsen spokesman could be reached for comment.

Before going into a closed council session to discuss possible legal action against the architect, Geissert said the city will insist that Mounce's design firm go back to the drawing boards--at no additional cost to the city--and come up with a project that can be built for the $11 million that the city has budgeted.

Mounce's Glendale firm has designed most of the civic center and has received $750,000 for designing the Cultural Center.

The focus of the controversy is a proposal to build a complex near City Hall consisting of the auditorium, dance and art studios, a 5,280-square-foot meeting hall and outdoor plaza areas. Officials began working on the plan, which has wide support in the city, in 1982.

Although MacGregor cited expensive stage equipment as the reason the bids were so high, city officials--and reportedly the architect--remain puzzled.

Philip Tilden, Torrance's management programs administrator for capital projects, said the city did not specify costly materials.

"We didn't use marble or expensive woods," Tilden said. "Maybe there are subtle costs in the mechanical systems."

Tilden said the city would examine theater projects in Irvine and Phoenix, Ariz., that had been undertaken by Nielsen Construction. Costs for those project ranged between $150 and $190 per square foot. The Nielsen bid for the Torrance arts theater works out to $250 per square foot.

Tilden said the architect was as surprised as city officials when the bids came in. Geissert said she had been told that a similar occurrence had happened to the architect only once in 25 years.

Mounce, who has designed the City Hall, police station, library and the city's cable television studio, has not had similar experiences with other projects in Torrance, Tilden said.

In particular, the low bid for the $1.8-million television studio--the firm's most recent project with the city--was an acceptable 2% to 3% above the budgeted cost, Tilden said.

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