The opening of Torrance's long-sought cultural arts center will be delayed more than a year because of difficulties in meeting its $11-million budget, according to a city official who acknowledged that the situation is "a fiasco."
"It is not very pleasant," said Phil Tilden, Torrance's management programs administrator.
The city decided last week to redesign the center from scratch. Instead of opening in November, 1988, Tilden said, the facility will not be ready until the end of 1989. He added that redesigning the project will cost $500,000 over and above the $750,000 already spent.
In July, city officials were stunned when construction bids came in 50% or more than the $11 million the city has budgeted for the project. "We were forewarned when we went out to bid that they might come out as much as $2 million over budget," said Mayor Katy Geissert. "Never in our wildest dreams did we think they would come in $7 million over budget."
Firm Let Go
Last week, the council, meeting in closed session, decided to dispense with the services of the Glendale-based architectural firm of Wendell Mounce A. I. A. & Associates, which had produced the initial set of plans and has designed several other city buildings.
Mounce officials have declined to comment ever since the controversy erupted. "I don't have anything to say, actually," said Wendell Mounce.
His firm was proposing that the city pay $290,000 to redesign the center.
The city said that Mounce should draw up plans for a less-expensive facility without any additional payments. In addition, city officials said that cost-saving measures suggested by Mounce were unpalatable and unnecessary.
The project, which has been planned since 1982, consists of a centerpiece 500-seat theater, dance and art studios, a 5,280-square-foot meeting hall and outdoor plazas located in the Civic Center complex on Torrance Boulevard.
Among the economy measures proposed by the architect were relocating staff and art-studio spaces to other city facilities nearby, making all hallways exterior walkways, cutting back on theater equipment and lowering the height of the theater by eight to 10 feet.
"The council was unhappy with that and didn't feel it was satisfactory," said Geissert. Tilden added: "They were compromising the facility."
The rebuff of Mounce jeopardizes the firm's long-standing relationship with Torrance officials, who have been considering a breach-of-contract lawsuit against the firm ever since the bids came in.
Mounce has designed most of the Civic Center, including the City Hall, police station, library and the city's cable television studio.
"We haven't decided whether to sue," said Geissert. "We hope it can all be negotiated out. In the past, we have had good relations with Wendell Mounce and his people and really that was the primary reason for selecting them do this project."
Tilden added that Mounce's attitude was "unusual" professionally, citing a provision in a standard contract for architectural services, drawn up by the American Institute of Architects, which states architects should redesign a building if bids are substantially over the budget. Tilden said that Torrance's contract with Mounce did not include such a provision.
"Legally, he is right. Professionally, it is unusual," Tilden said. "Most architects take the position that they design to what you want."
Tilden said the city will take three to four months to draw up bid specifications, making sure to include a history of the city's experience with Mounce. He said the work will cost about $500,000 because the new firm will have to start from scratch.
He said one architectural firm had already expressed an interest in bidding for the design work.
Citing bids for constructing similar facilities in other cities, Tilden said he is confident that Torrance can redesign the facility, retaining all of its major parts, and meet the budget.