Construction on Malibu High School, as well as at several elementary schools, is delayed because of budget overruns.

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Outraged community members attended a Proposition X Oversight Committee meeting Monday afternoon to express their frustration as to why the sole bidder on construction for Malibu High School exceeded the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District’s budget by $6.2 million.

Construction on the high school’s auditorium and gym, as well as work on some elementary schools, has been delayed because of budget overruns. The main focus of the discussion was determining a way to get a bid on the work that would be a “true cost” instead if an inflated one, coping with the realization that the cost will exceed the funding, and deciding how much the district wants to put into Prop X construction.

So far, current estimates of the cost of the project from Jacobs Facilities Inc., the company hired to manage construction for the school district and the source of all estimates on the project since Prop X passed, are far more than the original budget presented a few years ago. Only one construction company, ICE Builders, bid the project on June 29.

Art Cohen, assistant superintendent for Fiscal and Business Services, said, “If we were to accept the ICE bids in total we would have to increase the MHS budget by $ 6.2 million, bringing the total budget for the high school up to $12 million.”

This increase was considered unacceptable and the committee rejected the ICE bid. It was decided that the total project would be redesigned, broken into three parts, and rebid, hopefully with more contractors participating.

Jacobs Facilities suggested four options for dealing with the present problem, but basically agreed with the Oversight Committee that breaking the project up into three components was the best plan.

At present, ADA (American Disabilities Act) and site improvements on projects such as the MHS classroom building, which fits within the budget, will proceed as soon as contractors are hired, and the auditorium remodel and the new gymnasium will be treated as separate projects.

Laure Stern was the first member of the public to speak, setting the tone.

“I’m slightly mortified that I was head of the Prop X Committee,” she said. “I realize that building always goes awry, but why are the estimates so far off? ICE Builders, who are they? Why has no other person bid against them?

“When the ramifications of the work are clear, people want to work for you,” she added, implying this was not the case for the MHS project.

Bill Sampson, who described himself as a historically generous school parent but presently “an outraged taxpayer,” expressed similar concerns.

“Sixty-two percent over budget is shocking. I can’t imagine that type of discrepancy!” Sampson fumed. “My kid will be in a construction zone for four years and this still won’t be done.”

Attempts to assign blame for the disappointing progress and increased costs provoked Jacobs Facilities, Inc. representative Ken Brazzel to assert that the reason there was only one construction company, ICE, which actually completed the bidding process out of an original group of 15, was that contractors do not like dealing with school district bureaucracy and, given the opportunities they have in today’s busy construction market, prefer to work for private industry. Just completing a bid for the school district costs the contractor about $30,000-$40,000, he said.

Committee member Ardeshir Nozari wanted to further explore the reason so many contractors who were originally interested in competing for the project lost interest. He suggested that Jacobs had either not allowed enough time for the bids to be completed (two weeks) or that the fault was with the management practices of Jacobs Facilities.

“Somewhere down the line you are missing that relationship [with the contractors], which we should look at,” he told Brazzel.

He made a motion, which passed at the end of the meeting, that an investigative committee be formed to find out why the bidding was so unsuccessful, in order to ensure the same problem did not occur again.

Mark Benjamin, former chairperson of the committee, Malibu parent and CEO of Morley Builders, explained that Jacobs was hired to provide project management and design services and to work with district staff, principals, and the governance committees to develop and manage the projects.

The district decided to use a single company with the hope of achieving better budget control and monitoring, and because Jacobs offered “a unique contractual arrangement and fees,” according to Benjamin. Jacobs pays for changes in plans and for completion overruns once the project is started.

However, Benjamin admits, “Jacobs has consistently had difficulty estimating costs,” always underestimating the market price in their estimates for projects.

Benjamin also concurred, that, “We need to get a better handle on why we are not getting more bidders. Contractors know exactly how many of them are bidding on the same project because contractors talk. You learn quickly if you’re the only bidder–it’s not a secret that can be kept. As soon as you get more than one bid, you start getting accuracy. The spread between builders’ bids grows.”

So far, at Malibu High, a new track and field facility and parking lot are nearly completed. Lights have not been installed in the parking lot, and fill from the parking lot that was incorrectly used on the track had to be removed. A new 12-room classroom building will be ready for construction as soon as the state architect approves the drawings. It is supposed to be completed by January.

Remodeling is “99 percent” complete at Webster Elementary. Work at Point Dume Marine Science Elementary, which was contracted at the same time, was done in a faulty manner and the contractors have been fired, the committee reported.

Jacobs is looking for new subcontractors to complete the job and make corrections, hopefully before the start of school. Work at Juan Cabrillo has not started but is supposed to be completed by the end of January.

Benjamin recommended that the district staff and school board agree to proceed with the rebidding of the American Disabilities Act improvements and classroom site work as it already exists, but to review plans for the auditorium and put it out for rebid. He also suggested that they relook at the gym site because its location on “the cusp” of a hill is expensive construction.

He suggested that other modifications might be necessary in order to make the gym more affordable and “turn back the clock on the total overrun.” He recommended acting quickly so that there would not be excessive delays in the project.

The committee and public attendees also expressed concern that a great deal of misunderstanding existed about the facts surrounding the building project, which was becoming “a big P.R. issue for Malibu,” said Deidre Rooney.

On this note, a motion was made for another committee for public relations to be formed, but Superintendent John Deasy who has only been on the job for a few weeks objected, saying, “Give me a few months, the superintendent will do his job!”

He said he plans to open an office in Malibu in order to have closer community contact.