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Terminal’s Cost Overruns Analyzed : Airport Team Vows to Finish on Time in 1990

Times Staff Writer

A tight schedule, allegedly shoddy engineering work and insufficient staff all contributed to cost overruns and missed deadlines at the new terminal being built at John Wayne Airport, three of the biggest players in the project said Tuesday.

The terminal--part of the county’s largest public works project--was budgeted at $42 million by county officials, based on estimates by the architect and construction manager. But the lowest construction bid came in this summer at nearly $59 million.

A study commissioned by the county concluded that the estimates omitted some building materials entirely and vastly underestimated the cost of others. The county and the contractor are trying to shave $10 million from the cost while construction is in progress.

April, 1990, Target

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Despite the missed deadlines, the terminal will still be finished by April, 1990, the county says. If the target is missed, the county could lose millions of dollars in revenue needed to pay interest on the bonds it issued to pay for the construction.

In an unusual joint interview Tuesday, the terminal’s architect, the construction manager and a county official projected a united front after months of internal wrangling over who is at fault. All three are under a tight schedule to get the airport finished on time.

Despite the show of unity, the participants made some new admissions and accusations:

- Architects Leason Pomeroy Associates of Orange did not assign enough employees to the design of the terminal, said Richard J. Begley, airport project director for HPV, a consortium of three engineering companies overseeing the project. Leason Pomeroy disputed that assertion.

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- Leason Pomeroy executives in turn blamed one of their own consultants, Cygna Consulting Engineers of San Francisco, for doing substandard structural engineering and causing the architect to miss deadlines. Cygna officials have said they are not at fault.

- Alan Murphy, the county’s project director for the $300-million airport expansion, said the county will not sue the architects to recover the extra $6 million the county will probably spend on the terminal. Attorneys for the county had been considering that option, he said.

After months of talks, Leason Pomeroy agreed last week to pay penalties and forgo some payments totaling $775,000 on the $3.5-million design job.

Under the settlement, Pomeroy will remain on the project for its duration. The company will pay the county $245,000 in penalties for being late with its design. It will reimburse the county for $180,000 in staff time and work spent redesigning the facility. And it will redesign the project at no cost to the county, a service that had been valued at $350,000.

The Board of Supervisors unanimously approved the settlement Tuesday.

In light of the missed deadlines and cost underestimates, Leason Pomeroy obviously did not assign enough people to the project, said Begley, the HPV project director. HPV memos criticized the architect for understaffing the project as early as last year.

“I don’t think they had enough people on it, and in hindsight they might say the same thing,” Begley said. “I’m sure they’d rather have put more people on it than pay the penalty they’re facing now, which is the biggest hit I can remember anybody taking on a construction job.”

The architectural firm, however, said most of the problems were caused by Cygna, the structural engineering consultant. The architect said Cygna did an inadequate job on the project and was constantly behind deadline.

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Leason Pomeroy has sued Cygna in Orange County Superior Court to recover some of the $775,000 the firm says it will lose on the terminal job. The architectural firm said it is also negotiating with other consultants--including cost estimator Lee Saylor Inc. of Concord, Calif.--to take reduced fees.

An attorney for Cygna could not be reached Tuesday, but the company has said previously that the architect, the county and HPV were at fault for not providing Cygna with plans and specifications for the terminal fast enough.

For Leason Pomeroy--which had never designed an airport terminal before--the terminal “was our most important project in terms of exposure,” said Leason F. Pomeroy III, the firm’s founder.

‘Proud of Our Unique Design’

“Aside from Cygna’s part, we felt we met the deadlines on the project, and we’re still very proud of our unique design,” he said.

Meanwhile, all the participants were reluctant to criticize the others openly.

Their attitude was characterized by Murphy, the county’s project manager: “The thing we’d like to stress is that we’re all working together on what will turn out to be an exceptional building.”

Times staff writer Dave Lesher contributed to this report.

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