Torrance to Oversee Costs of Arts Center Design

Times Staff Writer

To prevent another design and budgeting fiasco, Torrance is insisting that a city consultant monitor the architect who is redesigning plans for the city's cultural arts center to make sure the project stays within spending limits.

In July, city officials were stunned when construction bids for the long-sought arts facility came in more than 50% over the city's $11-million budget.

If the closer supervision pays off, Programs Administrator Philip Tilden said the city may routinely subject architects for city projects to such oversight to make sure they design structures that can be built within spending limits.

"If this is cost effective, then this is the way to go," he said.

In any case, he added that the city would probably require a consultant to monitor design work for a $1.4-million general aviation center at the Torrance Airport. The Glendale-based architectural firm of H. Wendell Mounce & Associates, which is in charge of the airport work, is the same one that designed the first version of the arts center.

In September, the city severed Mounce's role in the arts complex after unfruitful attempts to get the firm to redesign it at no extra cost. Mounce has designed many of the buildings in the Civic Center on Torrance Boulevard, where the arts complex will be located.

Tilden said the unusable design cost the city $600,000 and set back the timetable for opening the facility by almost two years, to the end of 1990.

La Jolla Firm Chosen

At Tuesday's meeting, the council chose the La Jolla-based firm of Liebhart, Weston & Associates to redesign the center.

The project, which has been planned since 1982, consists of a centerpiece 500-seat theater, dance and art studios, a 5,280-square-foot meeting hall and outdoor plazas.

Robert Botton, an architect with the Liebhart, Weston firm, told the council that the arts complex could be redesigned to meet the budget without sacrificing quality. His tentative thoughts were to reduce the theater from 50,000 square feet of interior space to 40,000, cut back on the amount of concrete and shrink other facilities.

Consulting fees for monitoring the design are expected to be $100,000.

"All through the design process, the (consultant) critiques the plans and specifications to eliminate unnecessary costs and to discover opportunities for cost-reducing design changes. . . . This effort requires a block of time and resources that is just not available to city staff," Tilden wrote in a memo to the council.

Tilden acknowledged in an interview that the arrangement is not likely to be popular with architects. "They don't like that, because it is someone else telling them what to do," he said, adding that "they don't have any choice."

Architect Botton conceded that he has "no enthusiasm" for the arrangement, but said his firm can live with it.

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