By Rita Robinson | LB Indy
Unexpected costs to replace a wheelchair ramp will hike the estimated price to renovate the high school tennis courts to $1.8 million with another $35,100 approved by a disgruntled school district board Tuesday. The latest expense adds to project costs that have hugely escalated from the original $620,000 estimate in a few short months.
Board members said they were frustrated with increasing costs from the architectural firm, Irvine’s LPA Inc., hired to spearhead the project. “I think all us feel a little bamboozled by LPA,” said board member Ketta Brown. “It’s just frustrating. None of us are experts on tennis court building so we trust the people we hire. This whole process has been one surprise after another.”
Board members voiced their commitment to completing the project, which was slated to begin in May but now has no definite start date.
School officials agreed to pay a third of the $620,000 original estimate to renovate five of the six tennis courts on Park Avenue. The courts at the high school are also open to the public. Apportioning the costs for renovating the courts has been debated between the city and the district for years.
Costs shot up when post-tension slabs rather than resurfacing was selected as the most permanent choice to stabilize cracked and potentially unsafe courts.
Post-tension slabs are fitted with a crisscross network of steel cables that are tightened by a machine to pull expanding concrete together and prevent potential cracking. “The slab is under extremely high pressure which keeps it from cracking for a very long time,” said Ted Doughty, the district’s facilities director.
The city is still willing to contribute $435,000 towards the renovation but has not agreed to split the new million-dollar-plus price tag and is looking into less expensive options to repair the courts, according to Ben Siegel, the city’s community services director.
Siegel intends to consult with contractors who have built and repaired the city’s tennis courts on how to bring the high school’s courts up to city standards. “Post-tension courts trigger other improvements that are costly,” said Siegel. Because the surface will be raised about six inches, the project goes beyond a repair and is subject to federal American Disabilities Act requirements, such as upgraded ramps, restrooms and parking lots.
The original project estimate did not include post-tension slabs nor plans to install an upgraded wheelchair ramp to meet ADA requirements. The preliminary estimate for designing and building the new ramp is $238,000.
Designs for the new ramp must be approved by the Division of State Architect and was overlooked by LPA, according to a report to the school board. A new ramp is required because the existing one is too high on the incline, the report says.
“Where we thought the ramp was compliant,” said Doughty, “it’s actually a percent too steep. Yeah, we need to compensate the guys for adding that design into the project.”
Doughty said increasing costs can potentially cause the district to nix the project down the line, adding that that often happens if the price becomes exorbitant. “Sometimes agencies decide ‘You know what, we don’t want to do this project and it’s going to save us money in the long run, if we’re not going to do it, to pull the plug now,” he explained.
“The ramp (expenditure) was an opportunity to vent,” Brown said later. “We want to put this freakin’ thing to bed. Now we’re out of compliance with this, this, this and this. If anyone’s built a house, you know what happens.”
The project is now final-bid ready, said Doughty, with every detail listed down to how hard the concrete needs to be. Plans will be sent to the state for review this week with a response expected to take at least four weeks.
The proposed project will convert five tennis courts to post-tension slabs; one court is already fitted.
LPA, which specializes in athletic and recreation facilities for public agencies, has completed projects at all four Laguna Beach public schools in the past 15 years, according to its proposal to the district. The proposal stated that the firm has also installed dozens of post-tension slab tennis courts, including three at Corona del Mar High School.
Typically, the district hires contractors for specialized work, such as wheelchair ramps, that are part of a larger project. To expedite the process, LPA will oversee the additional work of the independent survey team rather than the district, according to the district’s report.