Santa Monica Observer - Community, Diversity, Sustainability and other Overused Words

By Jack Sadler
Special to the Observer 

Measure BB goes over budget by 30 million.

 


Due to unforeseen expenses and mistakes in construction management, SMMUSD facility projects funded by Measure BB are expected to go over-budget by 31 Million dollars. During the March 5th School Board meeting, district staff shared news about the budget shortfall and offered possibilities to the board about what to do. All eight of the district’s major projects went over budget, with seven of the projects over budget by at least one million dollars. According to district staff, some of the money may be recuperated after negotiation with construction companies.

Bond Measure BB, which was passed in 2006, gave the district 268 Million dollars for facility improvements and construction. Projects funded by Measure BB include the new Innovation Building at Santa Monica High School as well as the construction of new classrooms at the district’s middle schools. The quarter-billion dollars worth of funds was disbursed throughout nearly all of the districts major facilities.

According to Director of Facilities Improvement Stuart Sam, the district ran over budget due to a variety of factors. These factors can be grouped into two categories: project shortfalls and service related shortfalls. One source of “project related shortfall” was the unallocated budget for technology. The purchase of technology in the district was not planned into one centralized and specific budget.

“ For our classroom technology, we did not have a specific budget... Some of it was tied into the construction budget and not identified” Sam said.

As a result of delays and challenges in building “very complicated” structures, like Samohi’s Innovation Building, Sam believes “shortfalls” can add up. Samohi’s new Innovation Building includes 15 science labs 18 classrooms, computer labs, special-ed classrooms, an auto shop and administrative offices. According to Sam, the exterior took 16 months to complete. Project’s like these led to significant shortfalls.

“Because of delays and challenges, you extend the construction project and as a result we service related shortfalls.” Sam said.

One particular area of concern raised by Board Members was the ineffective cooling systems built in new Edison Language Academy classrooms. As a result of the unsuccessful implementation of eco-friendly technology, the Board had to install air-conditioning systems in each classroom. According to Sam, this cost around 400,000 dollars. Chief Financial Officer Jan Maez responded to the concern of Board Members by explaining the errors made by the district.

“I know we’re all trying to find someone to blame….We told our architects we wanted sustainable buildings. We didn't tell them what sustainable was, we didn’t give them parameters, we didn’t give them guidelines. We got sustainable buildings but it just doesn't cool the places our children are in the point we want them too.” Maez said. “We need to give our architects and construction workers better guidelines , better parameters and that is something we know about and want to build into the ES process.”

Board Member Maria Leon Vazquez expressed anger over the lack of communication the construction companies Parsons and California Construction Management (CCM) paid to the school district. According to Vazquez, the companies haven’t been accountable for their actions.

“We relied on both Parsons and CCM’s recommendations and follow through to work with us directly, I guess our little 268 Million was not that much compared to their [profits]. For us thats a lot, at the end of the day they have to do whats best for our district... to me, these two companies didn’t step forward and help us out...they let us hang... For us to just say lessons learned and move forward with a 30 million dollar loss is not okay.” Vasquez said.

Newly elected Board Member Craig Foster asked members of the board why so many mistakes were made in the planning for Measure BB. According to Foster, money was spent unnecessarily on overly complex and ambitious architecture including the facade of Samohi’s new Innovation Building.

“We as a school district are not sophisticated in construction management...I feel a little bit like we just got off the bus from Kansas to Grand Central station. How in the future do we make sophisticated decisions about sophisticated stuff. “ Foster said.

According to Jan Maez, the over 30 million dollar shortfall will have to be made up with new money granted by Measure ES. Measure ES, passed by voters in 2012, gives the district 385 million dollars to use for technology and site improvement.

“Ultimately, we’d like the board to authorize some of that allocated Measure ES [money] so we can complete the projects and promises of Measure BB. Maez said.

 

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