56 percent cost overrun

Police headquarters: Mayor O'Malley should investigate why taxpayers are left holding the bag.

February 23, 2000

WHAT ON earth is going on with the renovation of police headquarters?

The project, which was supposed to have been completed in November, 1998 now isn't expected to be ready until July, 2001. Meanwhile, the low bidder has now added $12.3 million to the original $27 million contract.

Three causes of the enormous cost overrun were identified at the planning commission meeting last week: "poor mechanical and electrical engineering services during the design phase," asbestos discovered in places not originally anticipated and plumbing systems that needed more work than originally anticipated.

The added costs are particularly distressing because the 25-year saga of the police headquarters on East Fayette Street has been a never-ending scandal that should have made city officials doubly vigilant.

The headquarters was defective from the day it opened. For example, many of the ventilation ducts that appeared on the blueprints were never installed, turning the building into an oven or freezer, depending on the season.

In 1993, Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke decided to renovate the headquarters rather than tear it down and start over. Preliminary studies were presumably conducted to justify that decision. Those studies and later surveys now seem to have been incorrect and incompetent.

Worst of all, the gigantic overrun is part of a long-established pattern of low-bidding contractors who keep asking the city for more and more money. Every week, bills for huge construction overruns are submitted to the Board of Estimates, which usually routinely approves them. The board's agenda for today's meeting includes a $489,569 overrun -- on top of $899,362 of previous overruns -- involving the new Northern District Police Station on West Cold Spring Lane. This case is extraordinary because construction of the police station is in its initial stages.

Mayor Martin O'Malley was sworn in less than three months ago so his administration isn't at fault. He will inherit the blame, though, unless he takes resolute action.

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