Elevator upgrades at Tucson police headquarters were supposed to wrap up in September.
But the project is months behind schedule, with no end in sight, and hundreds of thousands of dollars over budget, with less than half the work done.
Much of the delay and added costs stem from unforeseen problems — like an antiquated fire alarm system and a 40-foot elevator hole filled with trash from the 1970s.
Original cost projections for upgrading the three TPD elevators were not immediately available because the work was bundled in a single $1.8 million contract, along with upgrades for two elevators and the stage lift, and the complete replacement of two escalators at the Tucson Convention Center, a block away.
But since the project began in February 2013, $324,000 has been tacked on to the TPD portion of the job. So far, one of the elevators is done. But the second is only about 25 percent complete, and work has yet to start on the third.
As the project progressed, it hit the usual bumps associated with fixing up old buildings, such as beam modifications and other elevator revisions, the city’s project manager, Elaine Weaver, said.
“It doesn’t matter how well you plan or how thorough the design is; there’s always unforeseen conditions,” Weaver said. “And we had some significant, unforeseen conditions at headquarters.”
The project hit its first major stumbling block when workers attempted to connect TPD’s nearly four-decade-old fire alarm system into the first elevator.
The project team quickly realized it wasn’t going to work and it would have to replace the entire system throughout the 150,000-square-foot building at a cost of $249,490, accounting for most of the cost increase.
“It was a huge unforeseen condition,” Weaver said.
All the extra changes extended the projected completion date to Dec. 14.
With the alarm system replaced and work on the first elevator completed, the contractor tackled the second elevator.
The second elevator differed from the first in that it uses an underground jack to lift the car up and down, as opposed to a hoist system located on the building’s roof.
Once they opened up the hole underneath the elevator in mid-October, the project hit a second major stumbling block.
Workers expected to see a cylinder and jack surrounded by sand in the 40-foot hole.
But they discovered something very different.
Weaver said the original contractor just filled the hole with whatever trash and dirt was lying around the construction site back in the early 1970s.
“Instead of literally getting sand and back filling it properly, they just threw stuff in it. They just threw trash in the hole,” Weaver said.
So the contractor had to hire a special truck to come in and remove the 40-foot hole of debris.
After five truckloads and about a week later, the hole was cleared.
Weaver said it cost about $16,000 to remove the garbage. Beam modifications, elevator car and other issues also added to the cost.
Even though the city budgeted $25,000 just in case something went wrong when they dug out the hole, Weaver said they expect to find the same thing under the next elevator since it’s a similar design.
As of now, no new change orders asking for more money or extra time have been filed with the city.
But that’s likely to change since construction is only about 25 percent complete on the second elevator with a completion date just under two weeks away.
“Because of the delays on elevator No. 2, the project is likely to go past that day,” Weaver said.
While this project has had its rough patches, it comes with the territory, she said.
“When you get into an existing building, there are always unforeseen conditions,” Weaver said. “You just don’t know until you get in there.”