The ghost of construction deals past stalked the Peralta Community College District trustees meeting this week, with a sometimes-bitter clash between trustees and district staff over a $9.7 million proposal to build a new physical education complex on the Laney College campus.
Trustees voted unanimously to go forward with the proposal—pointedly “in concept” only, and not approving the proposed budget—but only after several trustees expressed concern that they had not seen or heard anything of the project until they got their packets for Tuesday night’s meeting.
The debate included a heated exchange between trustee Linda Handy and Peralta Chancellor Elihu Harris over whether the handling of the physical education complex proposal resembled the way Peralta handled the controversial aborted Alan Dones development deal two years ago.
The debate came over a proposal by Laney College President Frank Chong that the district build a new women’s softball field, a new men’s baseball field, a field house, and a small parking lot to accommodate them all on the downtown Oakland campus behind the current Laney football field in the area bordering the corner of East 8th Street and the Lake Merritt Channel.
Chong called it “a very exciting proposal to finish unfinished business at Laney College.”
Chong said he recommended Sugimura Architects to do the initial design and budgeting “because of their experience in athletics and who they have worked with in the past.”
The Laney president said he consulted with Chancellor Harris and Vice Chancellor Ikharo before choosing Sugimura.
The Laney athletic project was discussed and approved at a March 9 board Facilities Committee meeting. However, the posted agenda for the meeting does not list the Laney athletic proposal, but only notes “Board Agenda Items for March 13, 2007 Board of Trustees Meeting.”
The project is being proposed under California’s five year old education district design-build concept, authorized in 2002 by state law AB1402, in which “school districts select a design-build entity to provide design and construction services under one contract,” according to the state guidelines explaining the method.
Under the old pre-AB1402 system, under which Peralta’s Berkeley City College, for example, was built, state education institutions first hire an architect to design a construction project and later hire a separate construction firm to manage the construction of it.
The Berkeley City College construction was delayed by several disputes between the architect and the construction manager, and was the subject of numerous change orders that eventually led the board of trustees to revise the method in which construction change orders were approved by the chancellor’s office and submitted to the board.
In answer to a trustee’s question Tuesday night, however, Peralta Vice Chancellor of General Services Sadiq Ikharo said that building under the design-build combined architect and project manager procedure would not eliminate change orders entirely. And, in fact, the state guidelines for AB1402 note specifically that design build is not “a method to eliminate change orders or risks not properly allocated in the contract.”
Sugimura Architects has been working on the proposal for several months at the request of Laney President Chong, and produced an 8-page full color brochure on the project for Tuesday’s meeting, as well as a projected budget.
The estimated cost for the Laney athletic project was listed at $7.5 million in the trustee meeting agenda packet, but a new projected budget submitted by Sugimura Architects to trustees at Tuesday’s meeting put the costs at $9.7 million. In addition, Peralta Vice Chancellor of General Services, Sadiq Ikharo, said that the costs could balloon if unexpected problems occur in putting down the fields and building in the wetland area along the Lake Merritt Channel.
The money for the project is expected to come out of the recently-passed Peralta Measure A facilities bond. Once a contract is signed with either Sugimura Architects or some other project manager, construction of the fields and athletic building is expected to take between 18 and 24 months to complete.
The request for the new Laney fields and athletic facilities began with emotional presentations by several Laney athletes and team coaches, who complained about unsafe and unsanitary conditions in the present fields and buildings, as well as a noncompliance with U.S. Title IX guidelines that require nondiscrimination against female athletes.
“We have had softball teams refuse to play us because of the condition of the Laney softball field,” softball play Ashley Harley said.
With players and coaches complaining about bad drainage at the current field and geese that defecate in the grass or rabbits that dig holes, Harley called playing on the field a danger, noting that “it’s hard to worry about your game when you have to worry about your body.”
Assistant Women’s Softball Coach Charles Hayes said that the “antiquated” conditions on the field “makes it difficult to recruit quality athletes for our women’s softball team.” And citing the Title IX difficulties, Head Track Coach Curtis Taylor said that building the new field house “will allow girls to go in and change and use the restroom immediately adjacent to the field, instead of having to go all the way across campus as they now must do.”
And Laney women’s track team member Crystal Sensabaugh said that the only training room currently available for women’s field sports at Laney is in the men’s locker room. “It’s awkward for women to go in there when we have to see the trainer,” Sensabaugh said.
While trustees at Tuesday’s meeting universally said they approved the concept of the new athletic fields and field house for Laney, several were disturbed by what they called the “procedure” by which it came before them.
Trustee Bill Riley, who sits on the board’s facilities committee, said that “this is the first time I heard of this. Normally, this comes to the board first for discussion.”
And saying that “I hope the students don’t think I’m stalling, but this just came before me tonight,” student trustee Reginald James said that “it just doesn’t seem like the process was well thought-out.”
Trustee Marcie Hodge said that the proposal was “more than just a concept. You’re bringing us numbers. I support the concept. The students do need this facility. But I do agree there are problems with the process.”
Newly elected trustee Abel Guillen said he was concerned that the proposal had jumped by some $2 million from the time it went before the board’s facilities committee to the time it was presented to the full board. “I want to make sure this project remains within 10 percent of the projected cost,” Guillen said.
And trustee Cy Gulassa said he was “astonished when I saw the proposal while I was preparing for this meeting. What I’d like is that when we have a scope of project this large, we be informed in advance what is being worked on.” Gulassa said that he would recommend a change in board procedures so that board members could be kept informed of large-scale projects in the works before they are initially presented to the board for approval.
In answer, Laney President Chong said that “I totally respect the board’s concerns about the lack of consultation.”
And trustee Nicky Gonzalez Yuen, the chair of the board’s facilities committee which approved the Laney project and one of the fiercest critics of the earlier Dones deal, tried to smooth over the differences, asking “everyone to step back and take a breath and calm down. We’re experimenting. We’re trying to do something new. We’re trying to work our way into the design build process. We’re not actually approving a contract, here. We’re approving a concept. If there’s some confusion about the process, I’d like a little forbearance while we’re working on something new. I’d like us to trust staff to come back with a more fully costed-out project.”
The most heated objections came from trustee Linda Handy, who said that “I have a lot of difficulties with this. No-one told us about this during our meeting two weeks ago, even though this project was being worked on by the architect. I feel we’re being set up to be the bad guys, to question something that the students want and everyone feels is needed. The students already knew about this, and were brought out to the meeting to lobby for it. I think this is a beautiful project, but why did you not go through the correct process?”
When Chancellor Harris said that “this was an unsolicited proposal” which was not generated by his office, Handy replied “that’s exactly what Alan Dones did, and we’re still hearing about that two years later. If it was bad two years ago, why is it good now?”
The reference was to a controversial proposal by Oakland developer Alan Dones to create a commercial development plan for some of the same Laney College land now being proposed for the athletic fields and field house.
The Dones proposal was approved in concept by the Peralta trustees but under fire from Laney faculty and students and community residents, a contract between Dones and the district was never entered into, and Dones eventually voluntarily dropped the plan. The abortive Dones deal is currently the subject of an investigation by a federal grand jury looking into corruption in Oakland politics.
Harris differed sharply with Handy on the Dones comparison, saying that the Laney athletic proposal was different from the Dones proposal because “this came from the college itself. It didn’t come from a private individual. The Dones project was rejected by the college.” A clearly-agitated Harris said that “we’re bringing this before you [trustees] for your approval. If you don’t want to do it, that’s fine. But I don’t think bringing it before you is out of order.”
Handy also complained that the Campbell-based architectural firm that has been working on the project for several months and that made a presentation at Tuesday’s meeting—Sugimura & Associates Architects—is not on the list of Peralta Community College District Board Approved Architects.
The two-term trustee said that the district was going to have trouble explaining to architects on that list why they were not picked to do the initial workup, and said that the choice of Sugimura to do that work would discourage other architects from bidding on the full contract in the belief that it was a “done deal.”
Following the meeting, President Chong said he expected that a complete contract proposal could be ready to be brought before trustees within two months. Meanwhile, saying that the problem with women athlete’s equal access to trainers should not wait two years for the completion of the project, trustee Riley got assurances from district staff that a quicker solution to that problem would be found.
What is being proposed
14,728-square-foot Athletic Fieldhouse, including men’s and women’s weight room, men’s and women’s training room, football locker room, baseball locker room, men’s and women’s showers, team meeting rooms, and coaches and athletic director offices; Men’s Baseball Field; Women’s Softball Field; adjacent 138 car parking lot
Who is proposing it
Laney College President Frank Chong
Sugimura & Associates Architects of Campbell, California
Building cost: $3.7 million
Athletic fields: $3.8 million
Parking lot: $499,000
Soft costs: $1.2 million
Contingency costs: $500,000
Total price: $9.7 million
Peralta Measure A Facilities Bond
Photograph: Courtesy Sugimura & Associates Architects
An artist’s rendering of the proposed expansions of the sports facilites at Laney College