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Lone High Bid May Put Jail on Hold

The proposal exceeds the city's projected cost for the downtown L.A. facility by 20%. The project could be delayed by months, officials say.

October 22, 2005|Patrick McGreevy | Times Staff Writer

The long-troubled plans for a new city jail in downtown Los Angeles hit another snag Friday when only one company bid to build the detention center and its offer was 20% higher than the city's estimate.

The city engineer predicted that the project would cost $62 million but the bid was for $74.4 million, forcing the city Public Works Board to delay awarding the contract.

The board was told by Assistant City Atty. Christopher Westhoff that with a single higher-than-estimated bid it could not award the contract unless the city engineer recommended such action in writing and specified why the extra expense was justified.

City Engineer Gary Moore said he has not decided whether to sign off on the higher-than-anticipated bid from Barnard Construction Co. of Montana or seek new bids, which could delay the project by months.

"We are in the midst of reviewing it," Moore said. "It's a very important project, and we want it to go forward as fast as possible, so we want it to work out."

The snag occurred a day after project backers, including Councilwoman Jan Perry, celebrated the city Planning Commission's approval of the 512-bed jail for a site at 180 N. Los Angeles St.

The project had been proposed for the corner of 1st and Alameda streets, but that plan ran into opposition from the Little Tokyo Community Council and other groups in the area.

"It stepped too far into Little Tokyo," said Ron Fong, planning director for the Little Tokyo Service Center, a community organization.

Fong said he supports the current 2.5-acre location for the three-story, 171,000-square-foot Metro Jail, which is to be used to hold criminal suspects for no more than 96 hours.

No one opposed the project at the Planning Commission meeting Thursday, but city officials were left a day later in a financial quandary.

Public Works Board President Cynthia Ruiz said the city would contact other potential bidders to see why they did not compete and whether changes in the documents that set out the requirements might draw more bids.

"In this case, the work is very specialized," she said.

Moore, the city engineer, said the high bid was not entirely surprising because a boom in construction internationally has given contractors more work than they can handle. Also, the Los Angeles Unified School District is awarding hundreds of millions of dollars in school construction projects in the city.

"It's difficult with the shortage of materials and the building boom," Moore said.

It is the second time this week that city officials were faced with a higher-than-anticipated bid from Barnard.

On Tuesday, the Department of Water and Power board awarded a three-year contract for $103.2 million to the company to reduce dust problems in the Owens Valley, even though the agency had estimated the cost at $96.4 million.

DWP board member Nick Patsaouras called for an audit of spending on the dust mitigation program, which has increased from an original budget of $120 million to $415 million over seven years.

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