MHS construction under scrutiny

Some renovations may fall one year behind schedule; chaos tries nerves.

By Caroline Thomas

Special to The Malibu Times

Four major improvements at Malibu High School were slated for completion this year, but the project that is perhaps the most important addition, a new multi-classroom building, has been delayed due to lack of building approvals.

Construction on the multi-classroom building was slated for completion on Oct. 19, 2001, but ground has barely been broken.

It appears that the construction management company, Jacobs Facilities, Inc., has failed to get the necessary design approvals from the Department of State Architecture. The department oversees and approves all public projects.

Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District Superintendent John Deasy said of the delay, “There have been delays at building sites all over Santa Monica and Malibu.”

Jacobs oversees all of the district’s improvements and has caused several long delays at Santa Monica High and two elementary schools.

Jacobs Facilities, a subsidiary of the global corporation Jacobs Engineering Group, has a good reputation for constructing buildings all over the world, but Deasy finds that immaterial when considering their services here.

“Jacobs is just not able to handle the scope of this project well,” said Deasy. “These delays have been very disruptive to classes, parents, administration and, most of all, students.”

After Proposition X funds became available, the track and field and front parking lot projects began last spring. The projects were completed in the fall and the school now has a state-of-the-art rubberized asphalt competition track. The new lot fronting Morning View Drive provides parking spaces that will be lost with the construction of a new gymnasium.

Adjacent to the gymnasium, in the center of the campus, is the site of the planned classroom building. Econocrete is the subcontractor that has completed construction of the prefabricated building in its Chula Vista Facility. Although it is ready for transport to Malibu, Jacobs Facilities was unable to gain building approvals in a manner that kept the project on schedule.

Mike Matthews, MHS principal, said of the delay, “The level of scrutiny over school projects is very stringent because children’s safety is involved, but I find no excuse for how long this is taking.”

There is compensation for Matthews’ campus-Jacobs Facilities is being fined $1,000 a day until the project is completed. The money will fund furnishings for the new classrooms, but Matthews says, “I’d much rather have that thing built than get the money.”

He had hoped to have classes in session by now.

The office of Jacobs’ on-site manager, Clyde Buckmaster, said their policy is to refer any inquiries to the district. They will not discuss the delays with the media.

Deasy said the district has no problem with Jacobs talking to the press. Deasy has been in daily contact with Jacobs’ CEO, Noel Watson. Watson also refused to talk to The Malibu Times. The superintendent has asked Watson to address the upcoming district board meeting. The Jan. 24 assessment will be open to the public.

Considering the four major construction projects at the high school, Matthews stated, “Sometimes they finish close to the expected date and sometimes they are hopelessly behind.”

This is the dilemma for a school with three-quarters of its projects either complete or progressing smoothly and the other quarter tied up in seemingly endless red tape.

Some were surprised with the gutting of the school’s multipurpose room this year, but Matthews promises the new hall will be worth the wait.

“It was basically a cafeteria with a stage,” said Matthews. The stage will be widened and the backstage areas improved. The most dramatic change will be the addition of tiered seating. The new facility will seat 370 people and will host theater productions, school assemblies, and musical performances. Matthews also hopes to share the wealth with the community.

“The theater will be somewhere between The Malibu Stage Co. and [Pepperdine’s] Smothers Theatre,” he said. The nine-month project is slated for completion in summer 2002.

Ground has been broken on another highly anticipated betterment-an entirely new gym that will hold 950 people as opposed to the 150-person capacity of the present gym. The existing facility is too small to accommodate a high school regulation basketball court, and the new gym will allow the school to add more physical education classes.

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

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