The cost of retrofitting Olive View-UCLA Medical Center to meet state seismic standards and build a new ER has skyrocketed 30 percent after the county board of supervisors ordered more tests on the aging facility.
The board approved a $15.1 million contract with Ontario-based Perera Construction and Design Inc. to conduct another round of structural tests on the medical facility.
The board originally set aside about $23 million for the project, only to increase it to $35 million when a new emergency room and tuberculosis unit was added, and later to $59 million.
The budget for the retrofit and new buildings now stands at $77 million, making it one of the most expensive current hospital projects in the Valley.
Andrew Moey, a senior capital project manager for the county Department of Public Works, said the swollen budget is largely the result of the increasing costs of raw materials and skilled labor.
"There has been such an escalation in the construction industry," he said.
The retrofit is now scheduled to finish by 2008 while the new structures a 31,000-square-foot building and 10,000-square-foot acute care-nursing unit are in plan check with the state and await approval early this year, Moey said. Construction could start late this year.
Olive View is one of five county operated hospitals and is the only in the northern portion of L.A. County.
The original structure was built in 1971, and was heavily damaged in that year's Sylmar earthquake, which was centered nearby. The 6.6-magnitude temblor knocked the structure off its foundation and collapsed the first floor, killing four people.
The hospital was later rebuilt, but damage to it and other hospitals convinced state lawmakers to require certain seismic design and construction standards for new hospitals.
After the 1994 Northridge earthquake years later, stricter standards were applied to hospitals already built. Some of those deadlines have already passed, with the next occurring in 2013, when all hospitals must be able to remain standing during and after a quake. By 2030, facilities have to stay functional.
The retrofits, however, can cost hospitals, especially aging ones, hundreds of millions of dollars, especially since they have no funding mechanism from the state.
Last month, a study by the California Health Care Foundation found that the mounting costs and estimated $110 billion are so challenging that more than 300 of the state's hospitals vulnerable to collapse during a temblor say they can't make the 2013 deadline.
With Sylmar, Moey said one reason the costs have jumped is that there is a huge demand for qualified contractors because almost every hospital in the state is in the middle of some type of retrofit in preparation for the 2013 deadline.
"A lot of hospitals are being built or remodeled to meet seismic standards in the area," he said.
Bonnie Bernard, vice president of the Sylmar Neighborhood Council and the owner of a flower shop called Flowers 4 U near Olive View, said the hospital is vital to the community, but no county officials have talked to the council about the retrofits.
Still, Bernard said the fixes are needed to make sure a collapse like the one in 1971 doesn't happen again.
"It has to be done," she said. "It's an important element of the neighborhood."