Bids to renovate the North Branch Library came in way over estimates. Photo: Frances Dinkelspiel

The bids to renovate the North Branch of the Berkeley Public Library came in so high that library officials are asking the City Council to reject them all.

The architects hired by the library thought it would cost about $3.8 million to renovate the historic building on The Alameda and add a two-story, 3,850 square foot addition facing Josephine Street, but the lowest bid came back more than $1 million over that estimate.

Library officials think that with a little tweaking of the design, the city can redo the building within its projected budget.

“We are disappointed but we are optimistic that we can bring the cost down,” said Donna Corbeil, the library director. “It’s important we stay within our budget.”

The library architects are going to revise the plans to use different, less costly, materials and look at other cost-saving methods, said Corbeil. There may have been some ambiguities in the bid documents in the way the addition was described and the architects will try and clarify that language as well. But the size and scope of the project won’t change.

“We don’t want to do a big redesign,” said Corbeil.

The changes will mean a two-month delay in the start of construction, which will mean a two-month delay in reopening the building. Library officials had hoped to start the renovation in April, but May looks more likely, said Corbeil.

Renovation of the Claremont branch will proceed on time as the bids for that project came in close to the budget, she said. Library officials will recommend on March 29 that city council accept the $3.3 million bid of FineLine Construction of San Francisco. That bid was about $70,000 over projected costs, she said. The Claremont branch should close soon and construction should begin in April.

The library received six bids for the North Branch renovation, with the lowest coming in at $4.2 million and the highest coming in at $4.9 million, according to city documents. But the lowest bidder apparently made a clerical error and pulled its bid, leaving the lowest bid at $4.8 million, about $1 million over projected costs.

If the city council rejects all the bids tonight, library officials expect to return with a new set in about a month.

Frances Dinkelspiel, Berkeleyside and CItyside co-founder, is a journalist and author. Her first book, Towers of Gold: How One Jewish Immigrant Named Isaias Hellman...