One of three lifeguard towers built in La Jolla during the past decade, construction on the Children's Pool Tower began in early 2013. It was opened June 27.
Almost immediately, the tower's public restrooms began backing up and leaking into lifeguard showers and locker rooms, temporarily closing public toilets and forcing lifeguards to retreat into a temporary trailer. The project went through three seal moratoriums including an unexpected delay when seagulls were found nesting on the job site, preventing work resuming until the birds left.
And It didn't help that the old dilapidated tower it replaced, constructed in the '60s over an abandoned sewer pump station, was condemned by the health department as a threat before being razed in fall 2013.
San Diego Lifeguard Union chief Ed Harris said many of the problems plaguing the site from the original tower linger — like the smell of sewer gas. And that, Harris said, doesn't factor in construction flaws, or the fact the project has far exceeded budget.
“From a taxpayer's point of view, it's a tragedy,” claimed Harris. “It's more than a million dollars over budget.”
The project was scheduled to be completed in 220 working days. It ended up taking three years to complete.
The total estimated project cost of the Children's Pool Lifeguard Tower as of Jan. 27, was $4,324,773, 21 percent more than the projected budget of $3,591,481, city officials said. Those figures were taken from a Sept. 19 city audit report of the project contractor, Stronghold Engineering Inc. of Riverside.
The city audit concluded lifeguard tower project costs, and the possibility for delays were underestimated characterizing early cost projections as “overly optimistic.”
"The original Stronghold Engineering authorized contract amount was $2,707,127 with a project duration of 220 working days," said the audit." Over the life of the contract, change orders and contingency fund authorizations were used to charge more than $575,000 and add 281 working days to the Stronghold Engineering contract."
Auditors pointed out the city “failed to anticipate delays caused by the harbor seal colony nearby.
Disturbing or harassing the marine mammals is forbidden by federal law, especially during the marine mammal's Dec. 15-May 15 pupping season.
Cost overruns were just one snafu, said Harris, who noted an Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) report alleging tower sewer gas contamination was filed.
“Whenever you walk into the installation, you smell sewer gases from feces,” Harris said, adding, “[Union] told them to look into that sewer gas smell a year ago.”
Harris added a subsequent inquiry into the source of the alleged smell revealed “the forced air unit was not sealed. That's been moving sewer gases and spreading them throughout the entire tower.”
San Diego Fire-Rescue, in a letter to OSHA dated May 30 and signed by David Picone, battalion chief, health and safety officer, claims the problems outlined in the OSHA complaint, including tower smells, have been addressed and mitigated.
“As part of the design of the building, the heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) unit was placed in the same room as the sewage collection pit for the public restroom (allowed by building codes). Both the sewage and HVAC systems are intended to be independently sealed to prevent cross-contamination. Fire-Rescue took immediate and decisive action to investigate the claim. The health and safety of our workforce is a priority.”
SDFR said the following mitigation steps were taken:
• The city inspected the room where the sewage collection pit and HVAC are located and noticed the odor.
• The city tested the HVAC system drawing air fromm the room and circulating it throughout the tower.
• The city contacted San Diego County Health and scheduled a test of the station's air quality to determine if there were any harmful contaminants.
• The HVAC was turned off with a “lock out tag out” process.
• A subsequent air-quality test of the facility detected no contaminants.
• The city contacted the general contractor to determine the needed repairs to seal the sewage collection pit and seal the HVAC system.
According to the audit of the La Jolla Children's Pool Lifeguard Station by the Office of the City Auditor, several issues led to cost increases and lengthy timelines for completion of Children's Pool Lifeguard Tower.
The auditor's report determined “some of these issues could have been identified earlier in the design process and may have reduced the project's cost and duration.”
The city said the lifeguard tower project was audited “Due to concerns over the construction of the lifeguard station, its total cost exceeding $4.3 million and that it took three years to complete. We recommend that Public Works, in conjunction with the asset-owning departments, should conduct scoping/partnering meetings early in the process to discuss lifeguard station program needs, special scope requests, and the impacts of codes and regulations on the project’s overall cost and schedule.
“Additionally, we recommend that Public Works should implement strict considerations for product and material applications applicable to the lifeguard station environmental and occupant requirements. Finally, we recommend that for facilities located in harsh environments such as a marine environment, Public Works should have a supplemental maintenance plan in place for high-risk materials and components.”
The audit noted the Children's Pool project was complicated by construction being limited to 6 1/2 months out of the year due to the Dec. 15 to May 15 seal pupping season at the pool. The report also pointed out Public Works used a non-traditional method, design-build, for this project.
Design-build is a delivery system used in construction to deliver a project by contracting with a single entity. This is used to minimize risks for the project owner and reduce the project's timeline by overlapping the design and construction phases of the project.
Auditors concluded that “Costs exceeding the original contract amount of $2,707,127 was not due to a poorly bid or executed contract, but rather due to not factoring in design requests and upgrades well into the construction phase. Changes in design and special requests not only added to the cost but also prolonged the completion date."