South San Francisco, CA February 1, 2016 Rebroadcast SMDJ AUSTIN WALSH 1/30/2016
THIS ARTICLE WAS WRITTEN BY AUSTIN WALSH OF THE SAN MATEO DAILY JOURNAL WE ARE REBROADCASTING DUE TO THE IMPORTANCE OF THIS ISSUE AND THE VALUE OF THIS INFORMATION TO OUR COMMUNITY
South San Francisco residents alleging bond money was spent to finance poorly constructed school projects seized an opportunity to direct their frustration at district officials during an occasionally contentious town hall meeting Thursday.
Community members raised a variety of issues regarding construction projects built with money from Measure J, during a meeting held Thursday, Jan. 28, at South San Francisco High School.
The concerns frequently addressed the rebuild of Buri Buri Elementary School, as members of the school community claimed pavement laid only months ago has already begun to crack, no shelter between classrooms was built to protect students from rain and even downspouts attached to the gutters had been hung incorrectly, among other issues.
South San Francisco Unified School District officials last week announced the firing of USS Cal Builders, the company hired to build projects with the $162 million bond passed in 2010, and have scheduled a series of community meetings to share plans with residents regarding how to best proceed.
Assistant Superintendent Michael Krause expressed a desire to spend the roughly $28 million remaining of the bond fund in the best interest of district students.
“We want to make sure they have something to be proud of,” he said.
That sentiment was refuted by resident Michael Lacroix though, who slammed what he believed was shoddy craftsmanship at Buri Buri Elementary School, and questioned the commitment of officials to adequately address the issue.
“It’s a disaster,” he said. “Everything is a problem there. This is appalling.”
He pointed to a presentation given by Krause at the opening of the meeting celebrating projects successfully built at the campus, and claimed it did not tell the entire story of the poor construction which has plagued projects at the school.
“This is not the real world,” he said of Krause’s presentation, before storming out of the meeting. “This is phony baloney world.”
Krause though said officials will work to see future construction is done in an improved fashion.
“The school board and district are very committed to ensuring projects are finished quickly, but also in a manner befitting students and the community,” he said.
Officials have hired K-12 Facilities to help usher in the next stage of construction projects promised under the bond, in the wake of parting ways with USS Cal Builders.
But as officials look to a third and final round of construction projects at Los Cerritos, Sunshine Gardens and Martin elementary schools, ongoing projects must be completed at Buri Buri Elementary School and Parkway Heights Middle School.
Completion dates for existing projects have been pushed back toward the end of 2016, which Krause referred to as moving targets amidst a hesitation to breed an unrealistic expectation of when all the remaining projects would be delivered.
An independent audit found last year the bond had been overspent by roughly $11 million and district officials were required to transfer money from other funds to fill the delta.
Under the initial Measure J bond program, Martin Elementary School was slated to be rebuilt entirely, but that vision has shifted instead to simply overhauling and renovating the existing buildings.
Resident Bob Richardson urged district officials to engage in vigorous oversight to ensure the missteps which have plagued the bond to this point are not repeated.
“Let’s do the right thing from this day forward,” he said.
In an email, representatives from USS Cal Builders defended their company’s reputation, and claimed district officials have unjustly blamed them for the botching of the bond spending plan.
Kirk Beckstead, of USS Cal Builders, cited the variety of officials who have left the district since bond construction began, including two construction management firms, a bond director and district hired construction managers, as an indictment of the administration’s abilities to adequately deliver the projects.
“As tax payers, are we just going to sit back and watch our hard-earned money be spent by people who are not qualified to manage construction and have lost every person who was qualified since the beginning of these project?” asked Beckstead, in an email.
For his part though, amidst a crossfire from upset community members, Krause staunchly advocated for the commitment of officials to ensuring the remaining projects are delivered in an improved and efficient fashion.
“On my watch, it is going to be a different tune,” he said. “It’s going to be a different story. But it’s going to be a happy ending.”
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