Examiner Editorial: Merely wasting taxpayer money

The fundamental question about those three city recreation center renovations plagued by delays and costly construction failures is: Wasn’t anybody at the Recreation and Park Department — or elsewhere at City Hall — properly inspecting the jobs to stop botched work so entire projects would not need to be redone?

Recreation and Park has now enlisted the City Attorney’s Office to demand make-good repairs and $2 million in damages from West Bay Builders, lead contractors on the $16.8 million Minnie & Lovie Ward Oceanview Recreation Center. It was closed for more than two years and the re-roofing had to be done twice because the first time was no good.

The entire new electrical system at the $11.1 million Upper Noe Recreation Center was discovered to be wired unsafely. Fixing the dangers contributed to some nine months of delays that included ongoing problems in getting the field sod delivered.

A scheduled September reopening of the Harvey Milk Recreation Center was postponed until sometime in 2009, partially because the disability access was designed wrong and needed to be done over. The Recreation and Park alibi was that they would have caught the error if they looked at the designs themselves. But they “depended on the Department of Public Works to do that for us and they didn’t.”

Of course, Public Works had a quick defense; an official lauded the two departments’ “good working relationship” and said Public Works delivered “a lot of great projects” to Rec and Park “such as the California Academy of Sciences and the Moscone Recreation Center.” Recreation and Park general manager Youmi Agunbiade countered that less recourse is available when the work “is done by another city department” instead of by a private contractor.

It would be much preferable if, instead of mutual finger-pointing, all city departments involved in building or overseeing tax-funded construction projects — whether done by public or private employees — could cooperate on an independent citywide inspection and construction management procedure to effectively intercept faulty jobs early enough to keep the projects on track.

At least Recreation and Park is now promising to “add another level of design review to prevent future problems before they enter the construction phase.” We hope they really follow through on this belated attempt at an obviously necessary remedy.

What makes the recreation center failures particularly distasteful is that these projects are directly funded by the generosity of San Francisco voters who approved hundreds of millions of dollars in two recent bond measures for community park upgrades. Allowing simple, straightforward construction projects to get out of hand due to lax oversight is totally inexcusable.

As the dismayed vice chair of the Rec and Park Commission said when learning of the renovation messes, “We’re not designing the Transamerica Pyramid here.”

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