Questions & Answers from January 2015

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At the City Council’s meeting on January 13, 2015, the Council and the community asked for more transparency for the close-out of the Newport Beach Civic Center project, as well as “lessons learned” about the project.  Below are the questions asked during the meeting and the answers provided by staff.  To view the meeting video, please click here.



Q.  What was the original budget?
A.  The original cost analysis of the design concept selected by the Design Committee provided a preliminary construction estimate of $107,633,286. (C. P. O’Halloran Associates, Inc. March 20, 2009) 

Q.  How much money did the City save (on the Civic Center & Park) because of the recession?
A.  It’s hard to estimate exact savings because each subcontractor employed different bid strategies based upon their particular trade situation. However, most contractors were bidding at minimal profit during this time period in an effort to keep their workers employed. Industry experts have estimated savings between 8% and 12% depending on the type of work.  Our educated guess is that we saved about $10 million doing the work when we did. 

Q.  Was there a regular accounting of costs to budget status? 
A.  Yes, once the preliminary construction budget was established, the staff and Council Building Committee met regularly to review costs and value engineer the design to keep the project costs down. 

Q.  How can we avoid scope creep in future projects? 
A.  Decision makers need to be wary of adding extra features as the design proceeds. However, some creep can be beneficial if the additional cost avoids future expenses.  Each proposed change should be evaluated through this lens: is the proposed change an important amenity or need, and is the expense – at this time – worth it versus attempting the same project later? 

Q.  Were the costs considered prior to the design decision?
A.  Generally yes. The Design Committee established design parameters with dollar values per square foot or per space, which were to be adhered to by the competition architects.  This would therefore establish basic cost parameters. However, the Design Committee relied upon the architect’s compliance to the design parameters.  There was no independent verification of each design’s cost. Looking back, we should have added independent verification to the design completion process. 

Q.  Who decides the programming and decides how big the building will be?
A.  The programming and building size was set within the General Design Parameters.  These parameters were based on occupancy studies and a building needs assessment.  The parameters were formulated and then adopted following multiple public meetings. 

Q.  How do we compare [other comparable projects] to other cities’ city halls or civic centers?  
A.  Around 2010, the City of Laguna Niguel and the City of Newport Beach both broke ground on new civic centers. The City of Laguna Niguel spent $28 million on a 40,800-square-foot civic center and the City of Newport Beach structures’ (City Hall, Emergency Command Center, Community Room and Council Chambers*) total cost came out to roughly $85 million for a total of 100,000 square feet. The City of Newport Beach construction costs were equal to $856 per square foot and the City of Laguna Niguel costs were roughly $686 per square foot.

*The Library expansion, Park and San Miguel Bridge were excluded from the calculation to keep the comparison as equal as possible.


Q.  Did we get a good value for the parking structure?
A.  Below is a comparison of two other agencies who have recently built parking structures. 


Number of Spaces

Total Cost

Cost Per Space

Santa Monica


$26.3 million


Newport Beach


$9.1 million




$6 million


Q.  Did we over-state industry standards, from the staff’s perspective, we are/were not hitting industry standards? (Question in reference to the $22,300 cost per parking space, the member of the public believed at the time (2009) the standard was only $10,100)
A.  In 2009, according to the National Institute of Parking and the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average construction cost per parking space in the Los Angeles was $16,842. There are industry studies that give a range of $14,000-$20,000 for the same period. 

Q.  Did PWP (the park landscape architect) charge us for the rework of the park design or was that done as their error?
A.  No, the plant selection process and public review was part of the design process. No additional requests for design were made nor approved. 

Project Delivery/Management 

Q.  Would design-build have been better? 
A.  The City did extensive research on alternative project delivery methods including Design – Build which was presented to the City Council at its September 27, 2005 meeting. While there are benefits to using Design Build over traditional Design-Bid-Build, our research showed that the Construction Manager at Risk delivery method was superior to design build and design bid build in controlling cost and schedule. The agenda report and presentation is available for review.  

Q.  Were the costs out of hand because the architect and builder were not working together? 
A.  The design chosen by the Design Committee and confirmed by the City Council was a highly complex and iconic design. While some may say that the overall cost was too high, it was not due to a poorly coordinated or badly managed construction project. The cost of the project was a direct result of the chosen design. 

Q.  How do we structure a Design/Build process in the future to save City money? 
A.  A Design-Build approach may be effective for certain types of construction. Before starting future building facility projects, an analysis will be performed by our Public Works staff to determine the most cost effective project delivery method. This analysis would be presented to the City Council for public discussion. 

Q.  Going forward, what are the key steps we should do to avoid this type of issue? 
A.  We mention a number of ways to improve our future processes in the answers above.  We need to build in enough time to manage the schedule (without rushing)“.  We always try to put together realistic schedules using the latest critical path scheduling techniques. However, unforeseen problems and public expectations often disrupt the schedule. C.W. Driver did an excellent job re-adjusting the schedule and was often able to make up time. The schedule was re-evaluated on a weekly, and sometimes daily, basis. 

Q.  Who was responsible for the overall project control?
A.  Ultimately, the City Council is in control, but the management of the project occurs in layers. C.W. Driver was hired as Construction Manager at Risk and was responsible for managing the activities of the various trade contractors. C.W. Driver reported to the Public Works Department staff led by the Department Director. The City hired outside consultants to inspect the work for quality control, plan and specification compliance as well as building code compliance. These consultants reported to the Public Works Department staff. The project architect, BCJ, and its sub consultants also reviewed the work for plan and specification compliance and quality control. On a regular basis, the City Council Building Committee met with Public Works staff, BCJ, and C.W. Driver to receive project updates and provide direction for potential changes and issues. 

Q. How was the project managed?
A. Please see above.

Q.  Was the architect in charge of determining the space needs for the different departments and the different personnel?
A.  No. In 2002, the City hired Griffin Advisors, Inc. to prepare a space needs assessment for a replacement City Hall at the former location. The 2002 needs assessment was updated in 2008 and in 2009.

Q.  How much was C.W. Driver paid?
A.  $2,952,951 for project management during the design process and $14,242,540 for the Construction Manager at Risk contract for a total of $17,195,491. For more about C.W. Driver’s contract click here.

Q.  How did that person (third-party construction manager) manage? 
A.  We think they managed this complex project quite well.  To see more about C.W. Driver’s Construction Manager at Risk contract, please click here

Q.  How was their (C.W. Driver) performance evaluated?  
A.  C.W. Drivers’ performance was evaluated regularly by City staff and the Council Building Committee.  We did regular checks on the schedule, the change orders, the costing, and the progress of the overall effort.  The  delivery of the completed project was deemed satisfactory by staff and Council. With only 5% in change orders, they were well within accepted industry standards for construction changes. The project schedule did have delays, but Driver’s  performance to  minimize those delays was excellent. Ultimately, the project required three months more than the original schedule. Most of the delay was attributed to problems with structural steel production, which was beyond C. W. Driver’s control. 


Q.  How many employees work in this building?  
A.  There are currently 187 full-time employees and 43 part-time employees working in City Hall, for a total of 230 employees. The Central Library has 28 full-time staff and 26 part-time employees, for a total of 54 employees. The total number of employees working at the Civic Center is 284. 

Q.  How many square feet are for employee workspace? 
A.  In City Hall, 43,359 sq. feet are dedicated to employee workspace. This figure includes workstations, offices, work areas and employee circulation space. This does not include conference rooms, the lunchroom, restrooms, mailroom and storage. 

Q.  How many square feet are allocated to the general building?
A.  In City Hall, 17,475 sq. feet are allocated to the general building. 

Q.  Why aren’t all administrative staff members under one civic center roof? 
A.  There are four administrative and other groups that are not housed at the Civic Center:  Police, Municipal Operations (maintenance), Marine Operations, and Senior Services (OASIS). These departments’ administrative staff works closely with the departments’ operational staff members at their respective facilities. It would create management and operational challenges to move the administrative employees to a separate location.

Q.  Did we hit it (Civic Center size) on where it needs to be? 
A.  From the time the design was approved and built (three years) the City Hall staff size actually decreased. There are currently about half a dozen open workstations that would allow for an increase in staff.

Q.  Does it (Civic Center) accommodate growth or contract as the economy goes up and down?
A.  Yes, the floor plan and furniture were designed for flexibility. We can easily add more workstations (although smaller) or shrink as needed. If there is excess floor space in the future, the City might consider leasing space to various non-profits such as the Chamber of Commerce or Visit Newport Beach. 

Q.  Could a lesser project have achieved the same thing? 
A.  Certainly. The space requirements would be the same, but different types of construction could have been used such as tilt up concrete buildings with brick and stucco to reduce costs. The original plan at the old City hall location envisioned a tilt up building, but that plan was ultimately rejected by the public and City Council. 

Q.  Was there anything in between (the tilt up design and the current waved roof design) that was considered, and why was it rejected? 
A.  Yes, there were four other designs that were evaluated in the Design Competition that used varying types of construction.  The public had a chance to weigh in on these designs across several meetings, including an all-day one in September 2008.  In the end, those designs were not selected by the Design Committee or City Council. 

Q.  When they decided to go with that design did they know it would cost $10 or 15 million dollars more? 
A.  No. The Design Committee and City Council relied upon the architects to meet the Design Parameters. As stated above, it would have made good sense to have added an independent cost consultant to vet each design. 

Q.  Was there a conscious decision made, based on cost, for what we were getting and what we were spending?
A.  The Design Competition focused on meeting the established Design Parameters and aesthetics.

Q.  We also have a new Emergency Command Center (ECC), do we need that?
A.  The original plan for the Civic Center did not include an ECC. However, members of the Citizen Emergency Response Team (CERT) felt really strongly that the City Council should add it to the building’s plans. The Council ultimately agreed to include an Emergency Command Center that also serves as the City’s computer training room. Along with emergency drills and CERT training, the space is used by Human Resources, IT, and various department’s to conduct training programs. 

Q.  Is an ECC part of the new police station plans? 
A.  The replacement Police Department facility design has not been started or discussed. 

Q.  If the new police station gets built do we need the Emergency Command Center at City Hall? 
A.  As stated above, the current Command Center also serves as a training room. If Council elects to build an EOC with the future police station, the Command Center could be repurposed for training only or it could be used as an alternate Command Center or Departmental Operations Center (DOC) in an emergency event. 

Q.  As to the massive grading of the site – it was done to accommodate views.  Were there alternative heights and elevations considered? And what were the impacts to the views, and how much we were impacting-did we select the least intrusive, medium intrusive or most intrusive? 
A.  After extensive public input, the Design Committee and the City Council adopted the extension of the view plane restrictions that already existed within the Corporate Plaza Development that is bounded by Avocado, Civic Center Drive (formerly Farallon), Newport Center Drive, and Coast Highway. No other variations that would have pierced the view plane were considered. 

Q.  Were construction costs considered as part of the design competition?
A.  See above 

Q.  The perception is that no one considered costs when scope additions occurred.
A.  The expansion of the scope occurred after it was decided, by public election, that the Civic Center should be in the Newport Center area. To mend a divided electorate, the City Council decided to build both a Civic Center and a Park – because different sides of the Measure B campaign wanted different things.

Cost is always a consideration but the Design Committee’s and City Council’s efforts to take advantage of one-time opportunities to build a true “civic” center and park was smart planning. Constructing a city hall office building on this narrow site dictated that a parking structure be included. Knowing that the existing Central Library had a documented parking shortage of about one hundred (100) spaces, the committee wisely added that into the planned structure. With the opening of the structure, we no longer experience parking shortages at our extremely popular library.

With the city hall office building and parking structure at the backside of the library, some modification of the existing library structure was necessary to connect the two facilities. Additionally, surveys from library users indicated a strong desire for increased children’s library space and the need for more reading and study space.  Because we already needed to modify the back of the library, a small expansion to the existing space was cost effective. Additionally, any future expansion after the construction of the Civic Center would have been extremely expensive due to the need to work in tight quarters between the old and new facilities. 

Q.  When you look at a hospital project that costs $600 per foot and you look at our project that cost $1,200 per foot you have to wonder what is wrong with this picture. Did we really get that much more compared to what you get in a hospital? 
A.  There has been discussion in the community about the $1,200 per square foot cost of the Civic Center. This number includes the total cost to build a parking structure (including mass excavation and shoring wall), City Hall, ECC, Community Room, Council Chambers, San Miguel Bridge and the Civic Center Park.

In order to make a more accurate “apples to apples” comparison we reanalyzed the Civic Center construction costs and used a square footage figure that was based on the office and common area cost. This includes the cost to construct the City Hall, Community Room, and Council Chambers and resulted in a square foot construction cost of $856. Below is a comparison of the Civic Center structures’ (i.e. City Hall, Council Chambers, ECC and Council Chambers) construction costs to the construction costs of area hospitals.


Square Footage

Hard Costs

Cost per Sq. Ft.

Palomar Hospital (Escondido)




UCLA Medical




Newport Beach Structures




Kaiser Irvine




UCI Medical Center