Hot market causes shortfalls for school construction projects


Several Malibu High School construction projects will be stalled unless the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District finds alternatives to compensate for budget shortfalls predicted by officials.

Of four projects, a new gym and auditorium for the school will have to wait until additional funds are raised or reappropriated.

Mike Matthews, MHS principal, said preliminary estimates have shown that current funds are going to be insufficient to complete the projects. “But a number of things go along with that,” he explained.

The primary reason for the funding shortage is that projects have gone up in cost because a high number of school districts in the state received funds to build and renovate schools. Original project estimates from 1998 are lower than current bids are.

“The massive demand, within a short period of time, for contractors to come and do the work has created a limited number of suppliers,” explained Matthews. “So when demand goes up and supplies are limited, prices go up and districts throughout the state have experienced that.”

But Matthews is determined to see that all construction projects are completed, no matter what.

“We promised voters four things: a new classroom building, a new track and field facility, a renovated auditorium and a new gym,” he said. “No matter what, we will make the projects happen now.

“We have many options and the board has options they can use to help us out as well,” he said.

Recently, at an Open House at the school, Matthews spoke to parents and the community about possibly raising extra funds privately.

In 1998, Proposition X, the $42 million funding proposal to improve and maintain learning facilities within the SMMUSD, was easily approved by more than two-thirds of voters.

Furthermore, Prop. X got an extra boost when a state school facility bond (Prop 1A) also passed, which complimented Prop. X.

The district decided to divide the funds in a percentage formula based on a pro-rating of the number of students throughout the district. Malibu schools received 27 percent of the funds.

Two estimates were ordered as a comparison on what the projects would cost. Both estimates came up the same, and “they showed that we are $1 million to $1.5 million short,” said Mike Jordan, school board member.

However, this shortage does not necessarily spell doom for the construction projects that were planned, said Jordan.

“Here is why I am saying strongly, ‘Don’t panic yet,’ ” emphasized Jordan. “There are leaders in this district, including me, who are committed to completing the projects.”

Art Cohen, assistant superintendent in the areas of fiscal and business, echoed Jordan’s comments. “It’s not that definitive,” he said.

Currently, a 12-classroom building and a track and field are already under construction. New bids are out for construction of an auditorium and gym.

Some of the projects at Malibu High are already under way, said Cohen. As for the auditorium and the gym, “We are in the process of getting bids,” which are expected in early July.

“State funds will be predominantly used to convert the auditorium, so that is not a problem,” said Cohen. The state will fund 80 percent and Prop. X 20 percent.

Ralph Erickson, a Malibu representative on the Prop. X oversight committee, said, “Most of the projects are being completed within the timeline that was established early on. However, there have been some shortcomings.

“At Webster Elementary things were inadequately done,” said Erickson, but these were supervisory and workmanship problems.

Jeff Kramer, a former Malibu mayor who was on the committee that promoted the proposition in the community, said he is disappointed with priorities that have been established by the district board so far.

“Things like gyms and auditoriums also have community uses,” said Kramer. “I was upset by the fact that they left things that, in my view, were the biggest enticement to taxpayers to the very end.

“They managed to give the voters the lima beans, but not the cake and the ice cream,” said Kramer, as he spoke about the completion of the new MHS classroom building, while the auditorium and gym have not been done.

Other possible solutions to the financial shortfall have been suggested, including using some of the Prop. X money that was dedicated to building a new transportation facility for the district’s buses.

“We could perhaps takes some of that money,” said Jordan, who at the same time indicated that the transportation facility was in desperate need of repair. “We could re-prioritize.”

Another possible option is the use of a Certificate of Participation (COP), explained the board member. The city could decide that they wanted to enter into a COP agreement to fund a $1 million bond–over 20 years–or the district itself could participate in a COP, acting like a loan that would be paid back.