LASD construction group hits wall on facilities plan

Los Altos School District's Construction Oversight Committee members, primed to make recommendations, found themselves thwarted on every issue as they tried to deal with an already scaled-back facilities renovation plan.

It was only two years ago that district officials had high hopes after voters approved a $94.7 million construction bond. But soaring construction costs put original plans 40 percent overbudget, forcing changes in plans. Unexpected obstacles, convoluted timelines and high bids are still thwarting progress.

Roger Menard's anguished comment, "It's very frustrating, extremely frustrating," had other committee heads nodding in agreement.

Program Director Dave McNulty presented three action items for immediate consideration. The first presaged the tone of the meeting. Close of construction bids for Covington School has been extended to Dec. 6 to encourage a more competitive environment. Those figures are needed for other decisions.

The second item, camp schools, also faced incomplete information. Menard asked the first question, "What are the camp school costs?" Project Manager Cory Thomas said that costs were still being negotiated for the Egan camp, so exact figures are not yet available.

The decision on camp schools is dependent on the new program schedule; but the program schedule is contingent on how many camp schools are available. This is just one more decision the COC and ultimately the school board must unfold.

The third action item presented another conundrum. "Until we go back and define Phase 1, we can't decide on Covington, camp schools, etc.," said Committee Member Gary Walz.

Committee Member Stephanie Moore, identified another dependent decision. "What is the likelihood of Phase 2?" Moore asked. "It would be a waste to spend millions, for instance, at Bullis for things that would be bulldozed within 10 years. The timing of a Phase 2 could affect priorities for Phase 1."

Chairwoman Kim Graham synthesized the discussion: "Two pieces of information are needed before we can make an informed recommendation: the numbers from the Covington bid and the real cost, or at least a ballpark figure, for the Egan Camp School."

The consensus was that the McNulty's strategy was sound and the staff should "continue with immediate identification of a team to begin thorough school inspection and, in parallel, initiate the process of selecting one or two architects and general contractors," Graham said.

The final agenda item, Maintenance Facility Bids, exemplified district problems. The cost estimate when bids opened was $727,000. Only two bids were received: $1,040,000 and $1,180,000 - 43 percent and 62 percent over the estimate, respectively.

An extended discussion introduced multiple possible causes: including offices raised code requirements; the possible use of the space for welding triggered additional codes and the lack of multiple bids permitted bidders to be less than competitive.

Walz said he was not surprised at the high bids. "We are trying to get to a number which was not achievable in the first place," he said.

Explaining the urgency of this project to the total plan, Project Manager John McCormick said, "It is key to being able to start work at Covington." He advised that staff was already pursuing parallel paths to obtain additional bids.

The COC changed its Dec. 14 meeting to Dec. 7 to allow review before the Dec. 11 school board meeting.

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