An expensive new restroom was built last year with L.A. Rec and Park funds at Rose Avenue along the Venice Ocean Park Walk. The 815-sq.-ft. structure includes 10 stalls.
The initial bid to replace the previous structure was $1,783,000, but thanks to 43 change orders by top bidder CABD, totaling $337,757, the eventual cost to complete the new structure was $2,120,757.
“That’s $2,500 a sq. ft.,” said Rec and Park commissioner Nicole Chase, regarding a project that had a start date of July 2019 and an end date of August 2020.
Commissioner Joe Halper questioned the numerous change orders, during a virtual Rec and Park Commissioner’s meeting on February 4. He pointed out that when the company hired to do grading in Potrero Canyon asked for $3.9 million in change orders, he said he felt that he couldn’t question that because “We didn’t understand what would happen with the earthwork.” Basically, there was no way to predict what kind dirt the grading company OHL USA, would have to contend with in the canyon.
But in the case of the bathroom building in Venice, there was a $50,000 change order associated with delaying construction until after the summer. “Wouldn’t we have scheduled this off season?” Halper asked.
Then there was a $20,000 request to change to fiberglass doors with reinforcement and an almost $50,000 change order for Broas Sparkle Finish. A $27,380 change order was requested for an additional bird deterrent, with $28,167 being granted.
Park commissioners, who are routinely asked to approve various change orders, feel like they are supposed to be financial stewards for Los Angeles residents, but have no options for limiting the amount of money spent on these orders.
Department of Recreation and Parks General Manager Michael Shull was asked by commissioners if the problem is that contracts put out for bids are often not “well-written” by City engineering, which results in bids that are inadequate and later necessitate change orders.
“No set of plans is perfect,” Shull said. “There are always change orders.”
Another commissioner asked if another problem is that a project is given to the lowest bidder, so contractors bid low, knowing they will receive the BID and then ask for and receive money for change orders.
“They could go low and know they will always get the change order. It’s a risk, but they do it,” Shull said.
He added that if the City pre-qualifies contractors, those people who get the bids generally have fewer change orders.
Commission President Sylvia Patsaours said she joins fellow commissioners in worrying about change order costs. “We, Rec and Parks, need to be careful in design,” she said.
Halper added, “We need to be judicious in change orders for the future.”
“Especially with the current state of the budget,” said Chase, who noted the large loss of personnel that this City department is suffering and will not be replaced. “Are we being more vigilant in how the contracts are bid?”
The commissioners felt that their hands are tied, and the process keeps repeating itself: a project is put out to bid, the low bid wins, and then the contractor comes back for change orders that result in a higher price tag and the commissioners have no choice but to approve it.
Shull offered, “We could carry a larger contingency—but that is owned by the owner.”
For example, the landscaping for Potrero Park is being put out to bid. The design cost is projected at $500,000 by Rec and Parks and the actual work and plants is set at $900,000, but in addition to the $1.4 million cost there is an additional $1.2 million contingency built in.