$5 million more for Christopher High School

The sun rises over Christopher High School last year.

Christopher High School may have opened last August but
taxpayers are still footing the staggering construction bill as
trustees approve additional change orders.
Christopher High School may have opened last August but taxpayers are still footing the staggering construction bill as trustees approve additional change orders.

In the last year, the Gilroy Unified School District Board of Trustees has approved $5.1 million in change orders above and beyond general contractor Gilbane Building Company’s guaranteed maximum price of $90.7 for the first phase of the high school. Add in the $35 million budgeted for land costs, to pay the city for sewer and water fees, for furniture and other fees, and Phase One’s latest price tag is $130 million.

However, the second phase will cost an estimated $40 million, which is actually less than the district anticipated. Construction on Phase Two is scheduled to begin this summer.

“It’s just so ridiculous,” said trustee Denise Apuzzo who voted against a $1 million change order last May and reluctantly approved another $818,983 in changes at the last board meeting with the caveat that the district provide trustees with more information.

A large chunk of the most recent request comes as a result of extensive overtime hours logged as workers scrambled to open the school on time after running into significant delays.

“These were last minute changes the district had no control over,” Superintendent Deborah Flores explained to trustees. “The work had to be done.”

Still, thousands of hours in overtime is difficult to comprehend, Apuzzo said.

“How do you even do that?” Apuzzo said. “Were these people sleeping there?”

When Board President Francisco Dominguez called for the vote, several awkward moments passed as trustees avoided his gaze and refused to make a motion. Trustee Javier Aguirre broke the uncomfortable silence and grudgingly made a motion to approve the change order. Dominguez seconded his motion and board members approved the change order with trustees Mark Good and Fred Tovar dissenting.

“I have voted against a number of these change orders for CHS ever since I got on this board,” Good said. Like Apuzzo, he and Dominguez also voted against the $1 million change order presented last May. “A number of them are completely unreasonable without sufficient back-up documentation.”

Since the architect and contractor were building from the ground up, rather than remodeling an older facility, they should have had a better handle on how much the project should cost, Good said.

“That’s way too much money not to have detailed information about why the cost went up,” Tovar said.

To make matters worse, the district’s facilities department has a “revolving door,” Good pointed out. The administrators who worked in the project in its initial stages, former Assistant Superintendent of Business Services Steve Brinkman and former Facilities Director Rob Mendiola, are no longer with the district. Brinkman’s successor, Enrique Palacios, also moved on after 18 months. However, Good said he is pleased with new Facilities Director Keith Holtslander.

Measure P, the $150 million school facilities bond Gilroy voters passed in November 2008, will pay for the cost overruns.

“Five million dollars could do a lot in our district,” Apuzzo said.

The district has spent the first $50 million of Measure P funds more quickly than it expected, Flores said. The second batch of funds, about $35 million, isn’t available until 2011 so the district will use a type of loan to access that money.

“Now we have to make some tough decisions,” Flores said. “There’s just so much need.”

Trustees will revisit their facilities priorities at an April board meeting.

Leave your comments