A new courthouse complex planned for the Antelope Valley is now expected to cost up to $80 million, nearly double the previous estimate of $42.7 million, according to Los Angeles County officials who insist that the project can still be built.
County officials maintain that the change in cost is due mostly to a variety of routine factors, including the passage of nearly four years since the original 1988 estimate.
And they called the new figures a more realistic assessment of the project.
"It's kind of misleading to look at it like the cost of the project has escalated 100%," said Lori Howard, an aide to County Supervisor Mike Antonovich, who represents the area. "It's more a process of something that was fuzzy coming into focus."
Plans call for construction of a five-story building with about 1,100 parking spaces and room for nine Superior Courts, six Municipal Courts and chambers for 21 judges.
There also will be offices for district attorneys, public defenders and other court personnel.
The project is to be built on a 10-acre county-owned site on Avenue M at 4th Street West in Lancaster, although a nearby site may be purchased for parking. The county last year picked Birtcher Construction, a Laguna Niguel-based company, as the tentative builder.
Later this month, the Board of Supervisors is expected to consider awarding Birtcher a multimillion-dollar design contract. More precise project cost estimates may be released then.
For now, county officials confirmed that their project cost estimates are in the $70-million to $80-million range. And they said they are sticking to the county timetable that calls for construction to start in early 1994 and be completed by early 1996.
Julie Wheeler, a program specialist in the county's chief administrative office who monitors the courthouse construction program, said an Antelope Valley complex costing that much money can be built without shorting several similar projects elsewhere.
"We wouldn't have moved this far if we didn't think we could pay for it," she said.
State-mandated surcharges on parking fines and other assessments countywide are supposed to pay for the courthouse and others slated to start first in Chatsworth, North Hollywood and West Los Angeles.
Wheeler said the 1988 estimate of $42.7 million for the Antelope Valley courthouse was preliminary because county officials had not decided many details of the project. The latest estimates reflect refinements, including the number of courtrooms needed, as well as the cost of inflation through 1995, she said.
County officials said they were reluctant to go into more details of their latest cost estimates or give a specific dollar figure because doing so would give a price target to the courthouse builder, with whom the county expects to negotiate a fixed-price construction contract.
Wheeler described the $70-million to $80-million total estimate, which assumes a $50-million to $60-million construction contract, as the "high end of reasonable figuring." And she predicted that the final cost of the total project is not likely to go much higher.
The planned courthouse would replace the cramped Lancaster facility on Avenue J at 10th Street West, which was built in 1962.
A small two-story building and adjoining bungalows there now house two Superior Courts, five Municipal Courts and a Juvenile Court.