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The political implications of last week’s new price tag for the city of San Diego’s downtown schoobrary weren’t lost on the city’s contractor, Turner Construction. In 2005, Turner estimated the schoobrary would cost $185 million. In 2010, a city budget crisis and private fundraising shortfalls made that number all the more important.

“We knew inherently we could not deliver a number that was going to be a dollar over,” said Ron Rudolph, a Turner vice president and the company’s project director. “It would have been dead on arrival.”

Rudolph’s company delivered a number that was about $115,000 less than 2005. And the company did it, Rudolph said, without any changes to the project’s design or construction materials from five years ago. The economy, he said, was the reason why.

“No one’s building anything,” Rudolph said. “It’s pure economics.”

Over the schoobrary’s long history there have been numerous changes to the main library’s location, construction plans and even purpose when a charter middle or high school was added in December 2008. In the 2005 cost estimate, Turner saved money from an earlier estimate by using cheaper ceiling panels and flooring.

This time, Rudolph said, the contractor had discussed alternatives such as removing a planned auditorium or using less expensive materials. But bids came in so low that the company didn’t need to make changes. Rudolph did say the company has changed the contract’s structure to stretch out how long the city has to pay for the project.

On Friday, I asked the city for documents Turner submitted to back up its price tag, but was told the city didn’t have them. I’ve made a similar request this morning. I haven’t heard back. Rudolph, who commented about this issue on my Friday story, said he had the documents, but the city should be the one to release them.

This morning, I also spoke with a state construction official. She said a lower price tag for the project isn’t a shock, though a state index shows nearly a 15 percent increase in general construction costs since November 2005 when Turner’s previous estimate was released.

Kristie Antuzzi, an associate construction analyst with the state’s Department of General Services, said the state was expecting cost savings on projects estimated in 2005 that were going out to bid now.

Like Rudolph, she pointed to contractors’ need for jobs as lowering costs.

“The bottom line, if I had to bet my paycheck, it’s the availability of work,” Antuzzi said.

— LIAM DILLON

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