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SAN DIEGO COUNTY PERSPECTIVE : Saving a Dime to Lose a Dollar?

Government money is tight these days. Many projects, even worthy ones, must be deferred. Yet there are still times when it is better to spend a dollar today to save two dollars tomorrow.

The renovation of the old federal courthouse in downtown San Diego seems to be one of those cases.

Approximately $4 million has already been spent on the 5-year-old project. Hundreds of thousands of dollars in equipment, such as air-conditioning systems, has already been purchased and waits in storage. But the project has been delayed and is running over budget, in part because of the discovery of lead paint and asbestos, both of which are costly to remove. Now the federal General Services Administration is vacillating on whether to finish the project.

It would be financially foolish to halt the renovation. The expansion is necessary to make room for federal magistrates who are sharing courts and two new judges and for other space reasons. If the Bankruptcy Court cannot move into the historic 78-year-old building by late 1993, it may be forced to either lease courtroom space in private office buildings or construct courtrooms within the existing federal office building.

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Either of those options would be more costly than finishing the renovation, even considering the pessimistic estimates of what it would cost to remove the lead paint and asbestos, say Bankruptcy Court officials. Three or four years of rent could outstrip the savings. And $4 million already spent would be wasted.

The GSA should not give up now. To do so would be a loss for historic preservation, as well as for common-sense economics.


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