While replacing a backup power system at San Francisco General Hospital was deemed an emergency job, it has taken more than six years and is costing millions of dollars more than originally anticipated.
The hospital began replacing two steam turbine backup generators when one failed in December 2005. They have since required repairs and had operational problems. Under state and federal law, hospitals must maintain an emergency power source capable of supplying electricity if there is a power failure.
But replacement of San Francisco General’s generators, which date back to 1972, has been caught up in state approval delays, funding challenges and unforeseen construction snags.
And on Wednesday, the Board of Supervisors Budget and Finance Committee approved a $2.5 million increase to the project’s $18 million cap to ensure work will be completed and not interfere with the construction schedule of the voter-approved $887.4 million hospital rebuild.
With the additional money, the project is expected to be completed in 2012. The cost increase is attributed to delays and also from expanding to five generators instead of two — the three additional machines are for the new hospital. The Department of Public Works, which is overseeing the project, said expanding the project will save The City $2 million.
The project was not put out to bid in order to save time.
In the early stages of work, it was reported that the project could have cost just $7 million, but San Francisco General spokesman Tristan Cook said that figure was “put there before it was an actual project.” He said once a specific proposal was made, the cost went into the $20 million range.
As for the length of time, he said that’s just how long it took.
In the meantime, the backup generators continue to pose problems for the hospital’s operations. The system last failed in January 2010, when a steam turbine generator broke down for 6½ hours. If there was a power failure, the hospital would not have had backup power.
The last time the backup system was used was in March due to a commercial power outrage, but there were no problems with operations.
Cook said the reason it was deemed an emergency job was to prevent an emergency.
“This is a project that’s trying to prevent there from being a high-risk situation,” he said.
Timeline of San Francisco General Hospital generator project
December 2005: One of the two steam turbine generators breaks down
February 2006: Dept. of Public Works declares preliminary emergency to replace generators
September 2008: Dept. of Public Health, DPW declare official emergency and details of project
January 2009: Board of Supervisors approve generator replacement up to $18M
October 2011: Board of Supervisors Budget Committee approves $2.5M project increase
Source: Budget Analyst Harvey Rose