Upgrade to ‘Mysterious’ Lab on Peninsula Planners’ Agenda Exposed

by on July 25, 2023 · 2 comments

in Ocean Beach

By Geoff Page

One item listed on the Thursday, July 20, Peninsula Community Planning Board’s agenda piqued some interest. It was about a laboratory project but the title and description were insufficient to understand what the lab was for.

EMTS Lab Remodel at NTC

The title of the agenda item was:

2392 Kincaid Road. EMTS (Monitoring and Technical Services
Laboratory) – NTC. PRJ – 450-790-08-00

The lengthy description was:

Project proposes to remodel the existing facility and construct a new singlestory laboratory building of approximately 2,400 sq. ft. The objective is to amend the existing Coastal Development permit to include the new building. The City, our Client, has requested that we present the project to the local planning group early in the design process to address any potential community concerns. We are thrilled about this project as it showcases the City’s sustainability initiatives, and we believe it will enhance the local community.

Agenda descriptions may not appear to be difficult to write but that can be the case. The item needs to have enough information so the public knows what it is about but still needs to be as brief as possible.

In this case, the description appears to be very detailed but nowhere does it explain what kind of a lab this is. That would be key information for the public to know before deciding to attend a meeting.

The agenda title was also confusing and should have read: “Environmental Monitoring and Technical Services (EMTS) Laboratory.”

Still, none of this would make much sense to a person reading the PCPB agenda. It would have been necessary to research this on-line to know what it was. Not many people will go to such an effort for an item on a planning board agenda.

As it developed, the information item was about a laboratory designed to test water of all sorts for the city. There is an existing lab performing this work now but according to the city it is in need of an upgrade. The following is the description from the CIP project site:

This project will renovate the current NTC facilities to comply with new requirements. The NTC lab facility will upgrade their structural systems to meet current seismic code. The lab will be modernized to meet future needs. The laboratory operations will be optimized.

Not much detail there either.

The existing facility and site of the new building are at 2392 Kincaid Road, which sits at the end of a cul-de-sac.


Total cost for the entire project is $33,290,000. Of that total, the city estimates the construction contract will be $23,290,000. Board member Andrew Hollingworth questioned why the cost was so high for such a small building and the remodeling of another. It was a good question.

The first thing that seems out of whack is that $10 million will be the cost of design and management. That seems like a lot for this size project. The city explained the cost of the project was high because it was a laboratory with expensive requirements.

Hospital and laboratory construction can be very costly, that is true, because the work has to meet very exacting standards. It would be interesting to hear from someone with this direct experience regarding the size of this budget.

The existing lab, the Naval Training Center Harbor Laboratory (NTC), tests the city’s drinking water, storm water runoff, the discharge into the ocean from the treatment plant, and ocean water among other things. According to the city’s presentation:

NTC facility in its current condition will not be able to meet the upcoming State of California Environmental Laboratory Accreditation Program (ELAP), due to outdated climate control and safety systems.

The following is from the city’s handout at the PCPB meeting:

The project design is only at about 30% currently. According to the city’s timeline, the design will not be final until about April, 2025.

The CIP project document can be found here:

PCPB Vacancy Election

The PCPB held an election from 4:00 to 6:00 before the meeting to fill two vacant seats. Unfortunately, the vacancies occurred right after the yearly March election necessitating another election. There were only three candidates for the two seats. Candidate Cori Salcido received the most votes with 24, Jacqueline Lazo Greulich received 21 votes, and Maximillian Apodaca received 10 votes.

The number of candidates and the number of actual votes both attest to the low level of interest in the planning board. This is not just the PCPB these days.

Other news

  • One project was heard and approved. It was “Coastal Development Permit and Right-of-Way Vacation to demolish an existing single-family residence and portion of Rogers Street, construct a new 2-story 3,150 SF single-family residence, demolish portion of detached garage and add new 940 SF Accessory Dwelling Unit above garage, located at 690 Rosecrans Street.”
  • San Diego Police Department’s Community Relations Officer, David Surwilo, encouraged anyone interested in crime happening in the area to use the site crimemapping.com to keep up to date.

The PCPB does not meet in August, the next meeting will be September 21.

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Bearded OBcean July 25, 2023 at 12:53 pm

That works out to over $10,000/SF. That’s absurdly high. High-end clean rooms might cost $1,000/SF.

For reference, Healthpeak Properties, one of the top life science REITs, is building a 185,000-SF state-of-the-art lab building in Torrey Pines for around $500/SF.


Paul Webb July 26, 2023 at 10:30 am

I can’t speak directly to the cost of this project, but I can offer a few thoughts.

First, any kind of hospital or lab design is typically handled by specialist architecture firms. The amount and type of plumbing and other systems is really beyond the expertise of most architects. I had a friend who worked for a firm that exclusively worked on hospitals and medical facilities, and I was really impressed by the specialist knowledge involved in his work. Their work comes at a premium over most other design firms, and I suspect that is part of the reason the design work costs seem so high.

Second, remember also that there are additional levels of regulatory scrutiny involved in any facility that is charged with potentially handling both biological pathogens and hazardous chemicals. Getting regulatory approvals comes with a cost.

Third, I can tell you that capital improvement projects in the public sector will nearly always cost more than a similarly sized privately developed facility. There are structural inefficiencies built into the capital improvement project systems and procedures at all levels of government that are not present in privately financed projects. It’s sad, but also very true. Add in also such things as requiring prevailing wages and accounting for inflation and other contingencies in a usually long drawn-out development process, and the costs just continue to add up.

I remember vividly my first foray into the capital improvement project process when working for the state. I was given a projected budget that at first seemed like I had plenty of money to get the project designed and built, and even had enough money to add in a few nice but not necessary touches. Once I worked my way backwards from the estimated project construction start date to the beginning of the process, the mandatory contingencies allowance ate up a huge portion of my budget. I not only had to eliminate some of the bells and whistles, but ultimately had to reduce the size of the project to stay within my budget. It was a very enlightening experience to see what the soft costs ultimately added up to.

Not saying it could probably be done more cheaply, but I understand how the costs can balloon on you.


Leave a Comment

Older Article:

Newer Article: