Eight months after City Hall seismic retrofit work was suspended because of soaring costs, various factions remain at sharp odds over how, and on what scale, the project should be resumed.
On one side are City Council members and elements of the city bureaucracy who say that City Hall should be modernized and prepared for the 21st century at the same time that it is retrofitted, even if costs rise.
On the other side is Mayor Richard Riordan's administration, which wants to defer modernization so costs can be kept down.
In the latest phase of the long battle, City Engineer Robert S. Horii recommended to a council retrofit committee Friday that City Hall be entirely vacated for almost four years while up to $216 million in seismic reinforcement and modernization work is carried out.
Council members present indicated some satisfaction with Horii's ideas. But his proposal was quickly blasted by the head of a special advisory panel on the project that was named last fall by Riordan and City Controller Rick Tuttle.
On Jan. 31, the panel recommended a scaled-down project of $165 million--with the mayor and council staying in the building during the work--and said modernization of City Hall ought to be put off until later. Riordan and Tuttle endorsed the panel's general point of view.
One bone of contention, it was evident at Friday's meeting, has to do with who should manage the project, if and when it does resume. The city staff wants to retain as manager the firm of Lehrer, McGovern, Bovis--the same outfit that the mayor's panel said contributed to the soaring costs before work was suspended.
A deputy city administrator, Bill Mercer, said the staff believes the project would be run more efficiently this time if the firm was given more authority, although he acknowledged that the Board of Public Works and other city bodies also would have authority.
The advisory panel, led by Stuart Ketchum, says someone should be appointed to run the project and given almost total authority.
So Friday's meeting broke up in considerable acrimony, adjourning for two weeks so that the staff can draft a recommendation of where the mayor and council should move, if they do move.
Immediately after the adjournment, a Tuttle deputy, Timothy B. Lynch, charged that the $216 million overall cost figure presented by Horii, after working with other city staff, was unrealistic.
"This would reach $300 million," Lynch said.
The battle is not over, even if the council does approve Horii's recommendation, Lynch said, because the mayor would have a say on any budget increases, and the previously authorized budget for the project was only $153 million.
Under the Horii proposal, the work would be split into four phases, with funding secured now only for the $178-million first phase. That money would come from city seismic bonds and historic preservation funds.
The other three phases, totaling $38 million, would rely on grants that have been requested from the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Until the other phases are completed, the upper 23 floors, which were vacated last year, would remain empty.
Under the stripped-down project favored by the mayor's panel, all floors would be reoccupied as soon as the seismic reinforcing was completed--but without new furniture or other modernization.