A post office that officials say will improve mail service in Eagle Rock and Highland Park is still unopened six months after its scheduled completion date because its parking lots must be regraded, officials said Wednesday.
Work on the project has been stalled since September, when the U.S. Postal Service says it discovered that the lots were too steep.
Since then the service has replaced the architect who designed the $7.9-million building. The sleek, nearly finished structure at Figueroa Street and Colorado Boulevard in Eagle Rock is sitting empty.
The Postal Service attributed the problem to the architectural company, McCulloch Architects of Newport Beach.
"The parking lots as designed had excessive grades, which exceeded L.A. city codes," Denny Roush, a Los Angeles construction manager for the Postal Service, said Wednesday. "It was not the fault of the contractor. It was the design."
He acknowledged that postal officials approved the plans in advance but said they didn't realize there was a problem until last fall.
Tim Christiansen, project manager for the contractor, Vanir-Campbell Co. of Sacramento, said his company told the Postal Service about the design problem in November, 1987, but was ignored. Postal officials denied this.
Architects in the firm did not return phone calls after messages were left with a secretary.
The regrading involves several other jobs, officials said. Los Angeles officials said it may require additional support structures to bolster neighboring Figueroa Street. Fuel pumps for postal vehicles have to be moved.
Also, postal officials said the parking lot's exit is too close to a street corner for vehicles to pull into traffic safely and must be moved.
The delay has attracted the attention of a congressman and a city councilman, both of whom are demanding information about it.
The parking lots are on a 10% grade, twice as steep as city ordinances allow. Under the law, federal buildings do not have to adhere to local building codes, although the Postal Service said its policy is to obey them.
To regrade the lot, workers will have to start from scratch, tearing out the lot and the retaining wall that surrounds it. The workers will have to rebury sewer and water lines at the lot.
The 32,000-square-foot building is needed to handle mail in Eagle Rock and neighboring Highland Park. The volume is more than twice as large today as it was 10 years ago. The new post office will bring faster delivery and shorter lines, official say.
Planned as Replacement
It will replace a tiny post office on Eagle Rock Boulevard that has been there since 1952. The Highland Park Post Office, on North Figueroa Street, will remain open but will be used only for mail collection, postal service spokesman David Mazer said. The combined size of the two existing post offices is less than a third that of the new facility. Also, they have no parking for employees or customers.
It is unclear when new building will open.
Rep. Edward Roybal (D-Los Angeles), whose district includes Eagle Rock, has asked the U.S. postmaster general to explain what went wrong. City Councilman Richard Alatorre has called for an investigation.
Meanwhile, the Postal Service is trying to get construction moving again.
A San Pedro firm has been hired to design parking lots. The service expects to choose a contractor next week to do the work, the cost of which is unknown, officials said.
"People have been waiting there a long time for a new post office," Mazer said. "They're going to be happy when it's open, and they're going to be happier that it's safe."