Malibu High School modernization going $3 million over budget

A usually dry report from the school district’s contractor turned controversial Thursday when he said upgrades to Malibu High Schools significantly were over budget.

Speaking to a sparse crowd at the Point Dume Marine Science Elementary School, where the Santa Monica-Malibu Board of Education was meeting, Ken Brazzel of the Sverdrup construction firm said conversion of the cafeteria to an auditorium and performing arts studio “is not within the budget.” Plus several other overruns.

“We did not track the creep of growth,” Brazzel added. “We have to reduce the scope. We did not tell people you will not get all you see on the drawings. We must let people vent their anger and communicate what we really need.”

Brazzel refused to elaborate but Arthur Cohen, assistant school district superintendent, told The Malibu Times the overall project was $3 million over budget. According to his calculations, the auditorium project alone was expected to cost $1.5 million. He said the reasons for the higher costs was that the project was over-designed.

Board president Todd Hess, noting he was “troubled” by the report, never the less offered the board’s help in solving the problem.

“We explained our prior experience of a shortfall,” Hess said. “I am very disappointed this has occurred, because you had prior knowledge. You knew this concern from the beginning. We are in the same situation as the last process.

“We hired you to be good managers and paid you good money to avoid this very problem,” Hess continued. “We will be the ones to get the negative feedback. If this was a surprise, that’s one thing, but we told you about the problem of unreal expectations. I want to see results.

“We hope you apply all your company’s resources to solve the problem. If we need to get involved to make sure people understand we are doing everything we can to remedy the situation, we will.”

In other action, the board heard from assistant superintendent Cohen that Gov. Gray Davis’ “May revision” to the budget, which included an additional $1.84 billion for local school district discretionary spending, would mean a $4,015,514 budget surplus for the district.

“However, these projections do not include negotiations with employee groups next fall,” Cohen said.

Describing the district’s projected 2000-2001 budget as a “maintenance budget,” Cohen cautioned, “Be careful of that big amount of money. It can go away fast. If it is all spent, we will not have it for next year.”

He recommended reviewing programmatic enhancements after July 1.

The board also approved hiring a public information officer and related expenditures at a cost of $95,000, and hiring a special education consultant to report to the board by the end of June, at a cost of $20,000.

The board also heard that the projected enrollment target of 12,500 pupils was likely to be met. Enrollment is a significant basis of school funding.

The Malibu Times is the first newspaper in Malibu, serving the community since 1946.

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