La Jolla lifeguard tower rife with cost overruns

Baby bird, seal-pupping, and bad waste pump blamed for budget surprises

The new La Jolla lifeguard tower
  • The new La Jolla lifeguard tower

City officials are blaming seal pupping and a baby seagull for a portion of the months-long delay and a near million-dollar cost overrun that plagued construction of a posh new lifeguard station in the city's wealthiest community.

"Total estimated project cost as of January 27, 2017, was $4,324,773 which was an increase of 21 percent over the beginning project budget of $3,591,481," says a September 19 city audit report regarding the La Jolla Children's Pool Lifeguard Station. Contractor Stronghold Engineering, Inc. of Riverside required three years to complete the project.

Examples of contract changes that added time and money to the project

Examples of contract changes that added time and money to the project


"The original Stronghold Engineering, Inc. authorized contract amount was $2,707,127 with a project duration of 220 working days," says the audit, but that turned out to be overly optimistic.

"Over the life of the contract, change orders and contingency fund authorizations were used to charge over $575,000 and add 281 working days to the Stronghold Engineering contract."

One key problem, auditors say, was the failure of the city to anticipate delays caused by the nearby presence of a longstanding harbor seal colony, the disturbance and harassment of which is banned by federal law.

"The construction schedule was halted by three seal pupping moratoriums lasting from December 15th to June 1st in 2014, 2015, and 2016," says the audit.

In addition, per the document, "After the 2014 pupping moratorium ended in May 2014, construction was further delayed 39 working days by the presence of a baby seagull on the construction site....

"Environmental monitoring fees and temporary facilities also impacted the overall cost," the audit continues. "Monitoring and temporary facility rental costs were compounding due to a lengthened construction schedule."

Bird-proofing the roof tacked on $25,000, and an "above ground macerator pump was needed to accommodate the disposal of discarded public waste items. This system was redesigned during construction and later upgraded post‐construction when the system failed."

Besides the purported acts of nature, higher costs were introduced by requests from lifeguards to upgrade the new facility with features not previously included in the construction budget.

"Lifeguard requests/requirements that were not established prior to the commencement of construction had a substantial impact on the cost and completion date of the project," according to the document.  "These requests/requirements also affected the Lifeguard Station design."

As a result, the audit says, "change orders were used to add 'contingency' amounts to the contract to offset additional contract cost which were approved by the City through a contingency fund authorization process. Seven change orders and 34 contingency fund authorizations were processed for the design‐build contract.

"These change orders were 21 percent of the original contract amount and exceeded the 10 percent threshold identified in the Institute of Internal Auditing 'Blueprint to Construction Auditing.'"

Compounding the project's woes, say auditors, "the building exterior is showing signs of rust. According to Public Works, Stronghold Engineering, Inc. has since cleaned and recoated the exterior steel in accordance with the manufacturer’s recommendations."

"Going forward, a strict maintenance protocol is needed to slow the impact of saltwater on the steel exterior components of the Lifeguard Station."

Concludes the report, "Public Works used a method of project delivery — design-build — that was not the traditional method for the City. In this type of project delivery, one entity provides engineering design and construction services.

"The Lifeguard Station and public restrooms [were] a challenging project that was built in an environmentally sensitive location which had to meet community expectations as well as lifeguard requirements.

"Some of these issues could have been identified earlier in the design process and reflected in the bid documents rather than identified later in the project. This would have given a better estimation of project cost for the [Request for Proposals] and may have reduced the total project cost if project duration could have been shortened."

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If you can make a lifeguard station twice as expensive, at least twice as big as its predecessor and take more than double-time to build than originally planned, why not blame it on the seals? I also heard there were rats inside the structure and that brand-new plumbing backed up, so obviously that baby sea gull was at fault. The truth is that both this new lifeguard tower at Casa Cove and the newish one at La Jolla Shores (which had to be entirely rebuilt because of a design flaw in the lookout tower window) cost a fortune and intrude on the landscape in ways their modest antecedents never did. But then again, La Jolla's lifeguard monuments essentially mimic grandiose new residential housing in the area that is replacing older, simpler, smaller structures.

A waste of money, as anyone foolish enough to swim in seal feces isnt worth saving.

Maryanne: I sincerely doubt you could ever find a home in Rancho Santa Fe for $300-400 a square foot with “custom” finishes.

The calculations depend on whether you just figure the cost of materials/labor or add in the plans, permits, etc. Property costs should always be excluded. $300 - $400 for RSF is a little low for sure.

What would one expect after the huge cost overrun of the two Portland Loos installed downtown for the homeless, and same with the new Horton Plaza? San Diego seems unable to keep its construction projects on budget/on time.

The one thing that is always missing in these things is common sense something that government lacks.

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