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Up From the Ashes – For Millions?

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Will the City of San Diego proceed with its commitment to reconstruct the Electric Building in Balboa Park, even though the lowest construction bid came in $1.8 million over the architect's estimate?

That's the question the Public Facilities and Recreation Committee is scheduled to consider at its meeting Thursday morning. Assistant City Manager John Lockwood recommends the city proceed as scheduled.

To do that, however, the city will have to come up with an additional $2.6 million, Lockwood estimates in his committee report, to cover not only higher-than-anticipated construction prices but to cover other costs expected to raise the total to just under $8 million.

The City Council earlier this year endorsed rebuilding the structure, destroyed by an arson-related fire in February, 1978, with funds from a $5.2-million federal economic development administration (EDA) grant and $200,000 from the fire insurance settlement.

However, when bids came in May 17, Olson Construction Co.'s low base bid was $7.1 million, nearly $2 million more than the architect's $5.3 million estimate.

An analysis of the bids, Lockwood said, indicates lower bids would not result from readvertising the present project because the prices primarily are due to "recent inflationary increases" in construction and the "high level of construction activity in San Diego at the present time."

Consequently, Lockwood recommends proceeding with the proposed reconstruction by using the remaining EDA funds and augmenting them with $2.6 million from city reserves and/or cutting anticipated city programs.

Suggested funding sources, Lockwood indicates, could include the park and recreation capital fund, the environmental growth fund and advances on the sale of city land. Additional money could come from deferring proposed projects such as a fire training facility, the Casa del Prado seating and lighting and the Golden Hill recreation center.

In his report, Lockwood told the committee other alternatives are available, in addition to his recommendation. Another one would be to reject the Electric Building bids, redesign the project to eliminate all lower level exhibit space and rebid with EDA funds augmented by an estimated $1.7 million in city funds.

The original Electric Building had no lower level, but the space was added in this design to provide more exhibit area for the Natural History Museum, one of three major proposed tenants. Other major proposed tenants are the San Diego Historical Society and the Hall of Champions.

Adopting this alternative, Lockwood said, would not accommodate the use proposed by the Natural History Museum but would accommodate the other tenants. However, anticipated savings by redesigning and readvertising the project would be speculative now and not known until bids were opened, he added.

Another suggestion Lockwood made would be to reject the Electric Building bids, store the representative ornamentation (removed from the building just prior to the fire) at an estimated annual cost of $12,000 and defer reconstruction until funds become available.

With the EDA money, Lockwood suggested the city demolish the House of Charm and adjacent arcades, replace it with a 31,500-square-foot building at an estimated cost of $3.3 million and rehabilitate the House of Hospitality.

He said, however, EDA funds left after rebuilding the House of Charm would not be enough to completely rehabilitate the House of Hospitality, and the city would have to supplement the improvements with between $1.2 million and $1.9 million from other sources.

Deferring reconstruction of the Electric Building also would mean no expansion for the Natural History Museum, no place for the San Diego Historical Society Museum and displacement of the Hall of Champions, currently in the House of Charm, for about 18 months.

One other suggestion Lockwood made would be to reject the Electric Building bids, store the ornamentation, defer reconstruction and use the EDA funds to demolish the House of Charm and adjacent arcades, then store that ornamentation and rehabilitate the House of Hospitality.

Doing that would leave $1.5 million in EDA funds, which could be used for other structures, such as the organ pavilion, Lockwood said.

However, not proceeding with rebuilding either the Electric Building or House of Charm would result in no expansion for the Natural History Museum, no place for the Historical Society Museum, Hall of Champions, San Diego Art Institute or Model Railroad Club.

The latter two had been in the House of Charm until they vacated the building as a result of its partial closure.

Lockwood also estimated ongoing storage costs for the Electric Building and House of Charm ornamentation at $14,000 per year under that plan.

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