Los Altos School District ponders next moves on construction project


Managing the logistics of the Los Altos School District renovation of six elementary and two middle schools and the reopening of Covington as a seventh elementary school has introduced all the complexity of a master chess game for the district.

Because the construction project involves all nine sites, any change in the timeline or sequence for one school impacts all. And like a chess match, the district must plan several moves ahead, weighing each decision against known factors and unexpected circumstances.

On Nov. 16, 1998, immediately following passage of the $94.7 million bond measure, the Long Range Planning Committee developed a master plan to determine when renovation and construction would happen at each school.

Almost two years later, the district is facing the possibility of modifying the carefully researched and approved plan. This issue was scheduled for discussion Monday at the district meeting.

The known parameters have not changed; but an unexpected factor, the construction explosion, has impacted all the projections. Roger Menard, Construction Oversight Committee member, confirmed that the local construction market is at an all-time high and that estimated construction costs are currently as much as 30 percent over budget.

In response to this unpredictable escalation, the Construction Oversight Committee discussed several inflation-fighting measures. At the Aug. 31 COC meeting, alternatives were discussed in detail. The plan proposed at the Aug. 28 district meeting to use Covington as a camp school after its completion, rather than building a portable camp at Blach Middle School, would impact scheduling for Covington, Blach, Springer, Loyola and Oak.

Dave McNulty, director of facilities construction, and John McCormick, project manager, provided an extensive cost breakdown of the different options regarding camp schools. The School Modernization Team report proved that the financial savings from this plan would not be significant and the COC agreed that the construction of the Blach Camp School must go forward as planned.

Another suggested option would use the completed Covington as a third camp school and perform multiple construction projects in

one year. This could allow construction to finish in 2004, rather than 2005. This would save one year of supporting the portables at Blach and could counter the projected inflation.

Superintendent Marge Gratiot pointed out an additional advantage of using Covington as the temporary site for Springer students. When the new school boundaries are implemented, about half of the Springer students will be assigned to Covington. Those students would already be in place providing an easy transition involving one less transfer.

This solution seems straight forward, but the district and the COC must also evaluate factors which might negate this move. Moving Springer to Covington would require additional portables to accommodate the largest school in the district at 608 students. Randall Kenyon, assistant superintendent for business services, reminded the committee that cash flow is an essential component of any decision. The district would have to sell enough bonds in a shorter time frame to support a shortened construction schedule. Kenyon said that, as of Aug. 31, the district had not yet even received the funds pledged by the State.

The local building boom has not only caused price inflation but a scarcity of construction workers. Having skilled manpower to accommodate the telescoped schedule may be as difficult to solve as the cost overruns.

Another issue, as important as the fiscal and logistical problems, which impacts decision-making, is the community. Families from the five schools are involved in and affected by every permutation. They must be informed of any proposed changes, allowed discussion opportunities and confirm their support of any revised game plan for district renovation.

All of these proposals require research, evaluation and discussion; and that takes time; and time, in our valley right now, is money, as the school district is learning.

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