The new Mitchell Park Library and Community Center is slated to open this fall as scheduled, but the city's concerns over who is responsible for the project's cost overruns are expected to drag on well after the new library is built.
The project's projected price tag remains, at $41.6 million, well below the engineering estimate of $49 million. But a slew of recent changes to the construction contract have irked members of the City Council, who asked staff in September to issue monthly updates on the ambitious project. On Monday, the council will consider the first major change order since that meeting -- a request by the city's contractor, Flintco Construction, for an additional $278,710 to pay for tube steel that was omitted from the architectural plans.
While cost overruns are far from uncommon in the construction business, the high number of change orders associated with the Mitchell Park project has prompted concern from the council, which reluctantly agreed in September to raise the "contingency" budget for the project from 10 percent to 20 percent to cover unexpected costs. It has also prompted closed-door discussions among city officials about who is responsible for the rising costs and whether any legal action from the city is justified.
Palo Alto had also hired consultants to vet the change orders and help the city assess its legal options. According to a new report from Phil Bobel, interim assistant director of Public Works, a consultant has reviewed the latest request and "determined that Flintco is entitled to additional compensation" and that the amount in the new change order is "reasonable and justified."
The money will be used for material and labor costs associated with "tube steel around windows and openings that was not clearly delineated in the plans," Bobel wrote.
The latest request raises the number of change orders the city has received for the Mitchell Park library to 15. Together, the change orders total nearly $2 million.
Bobel told the Weekly that Flintco has actually asked for about $660,000 in its latest change order and that staff had determined that only about half of this amount is justified. Even the amount that the city has approved, he noted, remains far below the $6 million in change-order requests that it had received from Flintco.
The question of who is at fault for the rising costs -- whether it's Flintco; the construction manager, Turner Construction; the architect, Group 4 Architecture; or the city itself -- will be resolved after the project is completed, Bobel said.
"What we're focusing on now is getting the building built," he said. "We'll sort out change orders later. We don't think this (dispute) will have a material effect on the future library."