Rush to Open Jail Resulted in Mix-Ups, Cost Increases

Times Staff Writer

Contractors and county officials are proud of the new Santa Ana Intake and Release Center, confident that the gleaming new jail will be a secure and smoothly operating facility. But there were several major snafus in its construction, largely caused by the rush to get the building open.

Construction was "fast-tracked," meaning that the foundation was built and other work begun before the design was complete. This is an accepted technique in the construction industry because it speeds the process and can save money in times of high inflation. But it also commits the builder to dimensions before all design decisions are made.

In building the jail, for example, a room was made to house a large computer before the size and power demands of the system were known.

New Room for the Computer

As a result, the builders had to make a whole new room out of an emergency exit corridor and supply it with extra power when the computer--which will be used to track all jail inmates in the county--was finally chosen.

Burdette Pulver, project manager of the jail construction for the county, said that problem cost hundreds of thousands of dollars.

The new jail also is unusual in that it has no bars, just windows--which caused their own problems.

The county's first glass contractor and another company that built the window frames did not synchronize their dimensions, so when the frames and glass were made, they did not fit together.

The county then ordered glass from a second manufacturer, which offered its new product at the same cost and in the correct size, saving the county from a potentially time-consuming and costly fight with the original glass company.

But dozens of sections of this new glass--with a plastic core never previously used in a jail glass--were found to be defective. When it was delivered, much of it was streaked, and the view from some deputies' stations was distorted. Now it is being replaced by the manufacturer, at no cost to the county.

Also hindering construction of the jail was the large amount of building being done in the country.

For a project this size, particularly a jail, the county expected about a dozen bidders. But only nine bids were received, Pulver said. And the bids were higher than they would have been if there had not been so much other work available.

The county had estimated the contract--just one of many awarded for work on the jail--would cost about $31.5 million, but the low bid, from the Gust K. Newberg Co. of Los Angeles, came in at $37 million. Most of the $5.5-million difference was absorbed in the project's contingency accounts, Pulver said. But the change orders have since increased the Newberg contract by about $1.8 million.

Shortly after the Newberg contract was awarded in December, 1985, county officials began trying to find ways to cut costs. They reduced the warranty on the electronic security system from two years to one. And they lengthened the required response time for the electronic system's maintenance crews from two hours to four hours.

They also eliminated 16 smoke detectors and changed some "security cement"--which is thicker--to non-security cement.

Pulver said the total amount of the savings is about $800,000.

In retrospect, Newberg's project manager Paul Miller said, the schedule was tight. "For a project of that magnitude to be done in that period everything has to click with no errors on anybody's part," he said.

Even with the delays, county General Services Agency Director Bert Scott boasted that the new facility was completed in a shorter time than any other California jail. But the rushed schedule did contribute to the cost.

"All of those risks were accepted at the outset as the price of having additional (jail) beds available in the shortest possible time," Scott recently wrote to Supervisor Harriett Wieder.

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