Council reluctantly OKs extra $2 million for police headquarters renovation project

Additional $10 million in overruns is possible

March 21, 2000|By Ivan Penn | Ivan Penn,SUN STAFF

The City Council approved last night $2 million to pay for cost overruns on the $27 million renovation of police headquarters.

Before the council voted on the appropriation, Councilman Nicholas D'Adamo read from a Planning Department staff report that said the renovation project could cost another $10 million.

Baltimore has hired a claims consultant to review the project's records and to determine if the city can reduce some of the projected $12 million in cost overruns, Deputy Mayor David Scott said.

But at a time when the city is facing a $31 million budget shortfall and as city leaders seek increases in state aid, the headquarters renovation has raised the ire of council members, who reluctantly approved the additional money last night.

"We need to hold contractors more responsible," said D'Adamo, whose committee held a hearing Friday on the overruns. "Overruns are killing the city of Baltimore."

"It's a mess," Mayor Martin O'Malley said last night. He said the issue could be litigated if the city finds that the contractors are overcharging.

Scott and other city officials said the $2 million is needed for unexpected asbestos removal. "Each time they hit another floor, they're finding asbestos," he said.

Scott said he believes the projected $10 million can be reduced.

The overruns resulted from delays in the renovation project because of the extensive asbestos problem in the almost 30-year-old building, said George Winfield, public works director.

"Any time a contractor stops work, they want to be compensated for waiting," Winfield said. "As the project ends and we sit down to talk about various claims, [the $10 million] amount could go down. But we're talking about a lot of money."

The Planning Commission voted Friday against paying the $2 million because of concerns that the cost of the project would continue to escalate. But the council approved the money because it believes the project needs to move forward to avoid further delays.

Renovation is expected to be completed by July 2001.

Council members said they would rely on the claims consultant to ensure that the city does not get overbilled for the project.

City officials decided to renovate the building at 601 E. Fayette St. in 1993 because of problems with heating, ventilation and asbestos.

The city had considered other options, including moving to the former Hecht Co. department store on Howard Street, but found renovating the existing headquarters the least expensive. It was estimated that it would cost $47 million to move the headquarters to Hecht's.

The city had received $8 million in a court settlement from the asbestos manufacturer for asbestos removal at the headquarters building, but contractors discovered that the problem was more extensive than they had expected.

D'Adamo said he understands that the asbestos problem is extensive, but he said, "How could the contractors not predict where it is? What upsets me is this money is coming out of the general funds."

The police headquarters and the adjacent annex house 900 officers and civilian workers. Departments such as the communications center, crime labs and special operations units are at headquarters.

In other business, Councilwoman Catherine Pugh introduced a resolution to establish a Baltimore Marathon and won preliminary approval of a resolution to bring back the City Fair.

The 4th District councilwoman said she is seeking ways to attract more tourists.

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