City Councilmembers Pam O'Connor and Kevin McKeown (center) take part in the ribbon cutting ceremony Wednsday for the new Big Blue Bus maintenance facility. (photo by Brandon Wise)

COLORADO AVENUE — On time and under budget.

Those were the words that city officials proudly repeated multiple times in celebrating the new Big Blue Bus maintenance facility during its grand opening on Wednesday, praising a project team that managed to bring the 66,000-square-foot, state-of-the-art structure to completion at $60 million.

The project cost has fluctuated at times, originally estimated to be $80 million, a figure that would have covered the maintenance facility, a new administration building and underground parking for employees. It was also at one point estimated to cost approximately $140.2 million, including $95 million for construction.

The finished product is a maintenance facility that includes 21 service bays, which can handle maintenance and repair for a maximum of 20 buses every day. The new facility also allows the Big Blue Bus to later expand its fleet to include articulated — accordian-like — buses that the old structure could not accommodate.

Officials decided to cut the administration office out of the project because of cost issues, opting instead to use about $4 million to redesign the interior of the building that it occupied during construction, one that they thought would be a temporary space. The interior design work is expected to be completed in June 2010.

“It will be a sustainable building that we’ll be able to live in another 10 to 15 years,” Stephanie Negriff, the director of transit services, said.

The next phase of the project is to demolish the old maintenance facility on the west side of the campus on Colorado Avenue, installing a water reclamation and recycling system underneath. Another system will also be installed immediately next to the new facility.

“We are on an incline where the rain water goes to the ocean,” Negriff said. “We want to make sure we are keeping the environment clean.”

The Big Blue Bus has used the old maintenance facility since 1962. Just across the street from the new facility is the Wertz Brothers Antique Mart on Lincoln Boulevard, which was home to maintenance operations in the 1920s. Several offices above the facility have a view of the antique mart, a look into the Big Blue Bus’ past.

The transit agency has gone through many changes in the past 81 years, today operating a fleet that entirely runs on alternative fuel.

Negriff said the new facility will mean more efficient operations and a diversification of the fleet.

The new vehicles to join that fleet will be 11 articulated buses that will come in 2011, each costing approximately $850,000. They will replace the old biodiesel vehicles that were purchased in 1995.

During the opening ceremony, Councilman Kevin McKeown called the Big Blue Bus a great ambassador for the city that deserves a “nice place to come home to at night.”

A series of sustainable elements were included in the design of the facility, including 600, 80-watt solar panels that can reduce energy costs up to 15 percent a year, producing enough electricity to run the blow dryers at the Miss America pageant, McKeown joked.

The facility is also paved in highly reflective concrete that will help keep the microclimate cooler.

“This is not a place that will become an industrial heat island,” McKeown said.

Mayor Pro Tem Pam O’Connor, who serves on the Metropolitan Transportation Authority board, said that the Big Blue Bus is the flagship agency in the area, the star of Los Angeles County.

“We have the history, we have the foundation,” she said. “You are the symbol, you are the ambassador of the city.”

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