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I really jumped into rabbit hole trying to figure out how much construction costs have most likely gone up for the proposed new main library downtown. And although Alice saw a lot more interesting things in her portal, being a policy geek, I’m not so disappointed in the little things I ran into.

Take this one:

The city’s general contractor for the project reports that the library will need about 7,600 tons of reinforcing steel. According to Engineering News-Record — which appears to be the authority on the cost of construction materials — the price of this kind of steel went up $55 per ton just in the month of March of this year. And then, it went up another $55 per ton just in the month of April.

That means the cost of steel for the library went up $830,000 in just two months this year.

With steel on the brain, I called Eric Benson, the president of a local company, Pacific Coast Steel.

Benson said the cost of steel used for high rises had gone up $418 per ton since 2003.

That means it was about $200 per ton in 2003. So, the cost of the steel to build a new library has doubled.

Steel, however, is not the main ingredient in the library. The library will have a concrete frame. Concrete has become similarly expensive. The sand and cement used to make it are increasingly hard to get.

It’s a little more difficult for me to find out the cost of concrete but in 2005, the city said it cost $110 per cubic yard — up from just $74 the year before. The library will need 63,000 cubic yards of concrete.

I’ll do some work to find the exact price of concrete these days — cement, concrete’s key ingredient, has gone up about 20 percent since late 2005. If you readers have any access to stats on concrete costs, I’d appreciate some help.

It’s fair to say, though, the cost of building the new library is significantly higher than it was the last time they estimated it in November 2005.

And nobody’s denying that any estimate of the cost of construction it now would be higher.

“I’m reasonably certain that it’s gone up,” said Darren Greenhalgh, the engineer for the city of San Diego who, until recently, was the project manager for the new main library.

Ron Rudolph had a more interesting way of putting it. Rudolph is the affable official at Turner Construction who is overseeing the project’s implementation.

He said he’s been seeing an escalation in construction costs of about 10 percent to 15 percent for this year, which is good.

“It’s not going up at the rate of 35 percent a year like we were seeing,” he said. “The percentage of the increase in construction costs has gone down significantly.”

We both chuckled at that little mind-twisting statement.

And then I dug up the kicker. In a November 2005 report, city staff had this to say:

The future construction cost is estimated to rise by approximately $1,460,000 per month of delay past July 2006 if inflation continues at its present rate.

It makes you wonder: If library boosters knew that and knew that it was going to go up at that clip, why would they, in good conscience continue to allow the $185 million figure as the cost of the project bandied about? It’s just not true anymore. Yet, it’s the basis of arguments like this one.

I digress. Let’s do a little timeline work: Mel Katz told the Union-Tribune not too long ago that he hoped to kick start the next phase in the library project by the end of the year. He had some reason to just throw out, the idea that they’d reach their fundraising goals in the next five months.

Let’s go with that as the most optimistic scenario: By December of this year, Katz and the rest of the library boosters will announce that they’ve reached their fundraising goals and the builders were able to start going to work, say, in March.

That would be about 21 months after the July 2006 date.

That’s an inflation of the construction costs of about $30 million.

A couple of days ago, I put up an image showing where funding was going to come from (and how much of it would be needed) to pay for the new library.

It’s a pizza. Vladimir Kogan, our digital wizard, made the pizza for me and he says the little red things on it are red onions. OK, Vlad. Whatever.

Notice the extra piece on the side. This represents the increased costs of construction and the question marks represent my lack of knowledge both of how much those costs have gone up and who, exactly, was going to pay the bill for them. It’s going to be a tough slice to swallow. But how tough?

I suppose $30 million is our first new estimate. As I’ve said before, I think major donors to the project might want someone other than an amateur arithmetician like me and a guy who thinks red onions look like that doing the analysis on how much the project is going to cost.

But that’s where we are.

$30 million. That’s $30 million someone will have to pony up. Who’s going to get stuck with that bill? Taxpayers? David Copley?

Who’s hungry?

Next up: SwissCrete — More on how much the price of concrete has increased. Last year, the city chose a cheaper variety of the stuff with which to build the library. Are there any other savings to be had through “value engineering?” And, what’s wrong with the current library? SLOP gets out of the office.

SCOTT LEWIS

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