Berkeley Mayor Jesse Arreguín, flanked by city officials, uses oversized scissors to cut a ribbon at a grand opening ceremony outside the entrance to the North Berkeley Senior Center.
City officials cut a ribbon at a grand reopening ceremony for the North Berkeley Senior Center in September 2022. The center closed in early 2019 for what was supposed to be a 12- to 18-month renovation; the project lasted more than three and a half years. Credit: Kelly Sullivan

Berkeley could end up on the hook for millions of dollars in additional costs from the problem-plagued renovation of the North Berkeley Senior Center.

Contractor D.L. Falk Construction has submitted a claim for $3.4 million it says the city owes for cost overruns tied to the $8.7 million project, which included a seismic retrofit, roof repairs, upgraded electrical, plumbing and cooling systems. The renovation took more than twice as long as planned and ran into a long list of challenges, including extensive flooding caused by a major atmospheric river storm in the fall of 2021.

D.L. Falk Construction has not filed suit against the city over the costs to date, but its claim — submitted a few weeks after the renovated building finally reopened last fall — could be a step toward a lawsuit. The City Council discussed the matter, which it categorized as “anticipated litigation,” in a closed-session meeting on Sept. 26.

Berkeley officials and Matthew Richards, the attorney representing the Hayward-based contractor, declined requests for comment from Berkeleyside. City spokesman Matthai Chakko said the council did not take any reportable action at its closed-session meeting on the claim.

D.L. Falk Construction contends the city provided “defective” designs for the renovation and that crews uncovered extensive problems with the senior center once the project began, all of which forced additional work not covered by its initial contract.

The contractor’s claim details 60 change order requests that Falk says Berkeley either improperly rejected or failed to respond to, such as $79,967 for remediation after the flooding in 2021, $117,605 for new windows and $204,532 for extra costs associated with COVID-19 safety protocols in 2020. The largest single expense was $1.4 million of extra labor costs as the project, which was supposed to take 12 to 18 months, stretched for over three and a half years.

City officials and David Falk, the construction firm’s founder and president, have in prior statements each blamed the other for the delays and extra costs.

Public Works Director Liam Garland wrote in a 2022 memo to the City Council that staff rejected many of Falk’s change orders “because it has been determined that the work in question is already covered in the original scope of work.” And Deputy Public Works Director Andrew Brozyna told Berkeleyside last year that an initial investigation found the 2021 flooding happened because the contractor “provided insufficient measures to protect the building.” In its claim, Falk’s firm charged that the flooding resulted from the building’s “inadequate base design.”

About $6.8 million of the renovation project’s budget came from Measure T1, the $100 million infrastructure bond Berkeley voters approved in 2016, while the Federal Emergency Management Agency contributed the remaining $1.9 million.

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Nico Savidge joined Berkeleyside in 2021 as a senior reporter covering city hall. Born and raised in Berkeley, he got his start in journalism at Youth Radio as a high-schooler in the mid-2000s. Since then,...