Los Altos High construction faces weather-related delays

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Megan V. Winslow/Town Crier
The foundation for a two-story classroom building at Mountain View High School, above, is complete. Progress has been slower at Los Altos High.

Construction of new classroom buildings is underway in the Mountain View Los Altos Union High School District, but recent wet weather brought delays to the project at Los Altos High.

The foundation has been poured for a new, two-story classroom building at Mountain View High. At Los Altos, a combination of factors, culminating in rains at the end of last year, led to a delay in laying the foundation.

The $295 million Measure E bond voters passed in 2018 funds both campuses’ construction projects and is split into multiple phases.

During the first phase, currently underway, both campuses will get a new, two-story general-purpose classroom building, as well as a single-story building housing engineering and robotics. At Mountain View, the engineering building also will house computer science classes. Los Altos High also is getting a new auxiliary gym and multipurpose space in the first phase.

Later phases include construction of a new auxiliary gym at Mountain View High, new student services buildings on both campuses and a variety of modernization projects.

According to Mike Mathiesen, associate superintendent of business services, the foundation for the two-story classroom building at Mountain View High was completed in December.

“That’s the biggest milestone. It doesn’t look all that impressive, but as (with) any building, the foundation is the key to it,” he said.

Delays at Los Altos

The delay in laying the foundation at Los Altos has put that project four to five weeks behind schedule, Mathiesen said. However, extra time was built into the plan and he said the project is on track to be completed in spring 2021. Previously Mathiesen had estimated the first quarter of 2021.

A combination of wet weather and unforeseen complications has held up the progress at Los Altos High.

The delays began when it took months to secure approval from the California Division of the State Architect. The district submitted construction plans in December 2018 but didn’t get the green light for both campuses until August 2019. According to Mathiesen, the delays were caused by understaffing at the state agency.

“If we would’ve gotten DSA approval in June like we had in prior history … we wouldn’t be having this conversation, because we would have started that much earlier and we would have been out of the ground before the rain came,” Mathiesen said.

Although both campuses faced delays getting state approval, Los Altos then ran into additional hurdles after breaking ground on the project. Workers uncovered utility pipes running underneath the footprint of the new buildings, which had to be rerouted. An underground pipe wrapped in asbestos was also found, the removal of which caused a slight delay, Mathiesen said.

The combination of the lag in getting state approval and the other unexpected obstacles meant Los Altos wasn’t ready to pour the foundation before repeated rains came in late November and December.

The precipitation caused soggy soil, which meant the cement couldn’t be poured. The district then faced a decision: hope for dry weather or treat the soil to artificially dry it out. According to Mathiesen, the former choice is risky, because weather is uncertain and it may take months for the soil to dry.

Instead, the district’s board of trustees was slated to approve lime treatment for the soil at its Monday meeting, held after the Town Crier’s print deadline. Lime is made from ground limestone and dries out and hardens soil.

The process is set to cost $333,233 and be completed by the same company the district hired to move and compact the soil.

Mathiesen said the funds will likely come from surplus money left over in the original soil work contract as well as from the project’s contingency fund. The overall Measure E contingency fund isn’t expected to be tapped.

“It’s important to be clear that it’s still within the project budget,” Mathiesen said. “The project budget includes architect fees, construction management, the actual construction, plus the contingency.”

Assuming the board approved it, the lime treatment is slated to start within days, and then laying the foundation can take place.

Future projects

Planning is underway for future stages of Measure E construction. Mathiesen said the district is finalizing details of the student services buildings on both campuses as well as the auxiliary gym at Mountain View, both which are part of phase two of the project.

Freestyle Academy of Communication Arts and Technology, which is housed behind the district office, also will get a new home, though plans for it have changed. Originally the intent was to create a two-story building for Freestyle, but the design came in over the $14 million allocated for its budget. The cost estimate was close to $21 million. A new, one-story design has been created, Mathiesen said.

The second phase of construction is set to begin once the first phase concludes in spring 2021.

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