Proposed L.A. Federal Courthouse Price Tag Triples to $1.1 Billion

LOS ANGELES — The cost of a proposed new federal courthouse here has nearly tripled to more than $1 billion, resulting in a government audit by Congress’ investigative arm.

The audit, conducted by the General Accountability Office, was released in September and estimates the cost of the proposed courthouse has increased from $400 million in 2000 to $1.1 billion in 2008 due to a series of delays and false starts.

The project, which is being managed by the General Services Administration, is growing too expensive and is suffering too many delays, creating operational, space and security issues within the city’s federal court system, the report states.

Federal court operations in Los Angeles are split between two facilities, the 1938 Spring Street Courthouse and the 1992 Edward R. Roybal Federal Building. The audit deemed both facilities inadequate.

The judiciary found that nearly half of the courtrooms in the Spring Street building do not meet federal standards for size or security and prisoner passageways in the facility are not used because they are considered dangerous or inefficient.

About $33 million has been spent on the downtown project for design services and site acquisition, according to the audit.

In 2000, plans developed by architectural firm Perkins + Will included a 41-courtroom facility in downtown L.A. that would be the largest courthouse in the nation. Congress approved the first design and allocated $400 million to the project, which had a scheduled completion date of 2006.

Since then, GSA submitted a new, larger design for a 54-courtroom complex and a revised opening date of 2009, incurring design delays and cost escalations, officials say.

Federal officials rejected the larger design, forcing GSA to revert to the smaller plan. By that time design changes were needed and construction costs had skyrocketed.

Federal auditors recommend several alternatives, including starting over on the project or reducing the scope of the design to a 36-courtroom building that would require an additional $733 million from Congress and would not be completed until 2014.

Congress would need to approve any future plans for the courthouse project, as current cost estimates exceed authorized appropriations.