By Associated Press • 

Administrator on leave after project costs triple

PORTLAND — A Portland city administrator is on leave after an audit showed elaborate design choices and insufficient oversight were responsible for the skyrocketing costs of a new office building.

The Oregonian reports an audit released Wednesday shows Bureau of Environmental Services director Dean Marriot failed to update the city on the Columbia Building's growing costs, despite multiple opportunities to do so.

The cost overruns, which tripled the final price to $11.5 million, became public in April.

Marriott says in a written response that the price grew because of site improvements not in the original scope. He also says the original price estimate didn't account for interest or overhead expenses.

The project also raised concerns about conflicts of interest: The same manager responsible for overseeing spending was responsible for project work

Commissioner Nick Fish, who oversees the bureau and who requested the audit in April when cost overruns became public, placed Marriott on paid leave pending an investigation by outside attorneys.

“I want an outside investigator to connect the dots for me and then come back to me with recommendations,” Fish said. “I'm interested in whether laws, rules, ethical guidelines have been violated.”

Marriott defended the project, saying he expects to return to work at the conclusion of the investigation, which is scheduled to conclude before the end of the year.

“I welcome the facts coming out,” Marriott said. “I look forward to the investigation.”

The Columbia Building was expected to cost $3.2 million when the City Council approved it in 2009, a price tag that enabled a sustainable design but included minimal improvements to adjacent property, according to the audit.

Early drawings showed a rectangular office building with a rectangular ecoroof.

Auditors said the bureau ended up building a “showcase” facility, with Skylab Architecture proposing “usual and costly design features,” auditors found.

“Essentially, what could have been a relatively straightforward and simple building became more complex and elaborate,” auditors wrote.

Bureau officials had nine formal opportunities to update the City Council about the Columbia Building but their reports lacked enough transparency.

“Generally, they did not convey the extent of increasing project scope or contract costs compared to the original contract,” auditors wrote.

Marriott defended the project in a written response to the audit.

The price grew largely because of site improvements not in the original scope, Marriott said. He also argued that starting with an adjusted budget of $8.9 million - in place by December 2010 - would provide a “better comparison” to the final $11.5 million cost, which does not include interest or overhead expenses.

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Information from: The Oregonian, http://www.oregonlive.com

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