Schools Construction Boom Stalled by Lack of Interest

Too Busy to Bid, Say Local Contractors

The current construction boom has proven particularly challenging for Santa Barbara Unified School District, now trying to line up a variety of facility repairs and upgrades during summer vacation, when campuses are relatively empty. For some projects, explained Dave Hetyonk, the district’s director facilities and operations, the bids are simply not coming in, with contractors having already filled their schedules earlier in the year. “We have some great local contractors,” Hetyonk said, “but they’re all busy.” He added that the district is also well aware that not every contractor is keen on tackling a public works project, which typically involves a lot more costly paperwork than private-sector construction.

The district is also concerned with cost. On average of late, submitted bids reflect a 10 percent rate of inflation, said district Superintendent Cary Matsuoka at a recent Board of Education meeting. The estimate increases have prompted the board to reject several bids outright and to urge Hetyonk to increase his bidder pool by running more ads in the greater tri-counties region and “picking up the phone and beating the bushes to encourage more contractors to participate,” he said. Hetyonk added that the district walks the fine line between a preference for local contractors — who will be paid by locally approved bond monies — and doing its due diligence to get taxpayers the best deal for their dollars, even if a selected contractor is from outside the area.

In related news, the gas lines at Washington Elementary School have been shut off since spring break, when multiple leaks were discovered during campus maintenance work. Hetyonk said the gas, water, and sewer lines at Washington are original, dating back to the 1950s, and will be replaced this summer by Schock Contracting Corporation, the project’s sole bidder. Hetyonk told the board that the district underestimated the scope of the work, which, he added, represents “a perfect storm” of how project costs can ramp up significantly. At Washington, not only does the campus’s restricted workspace prohibit the use of more efficient big machinery, the work must be completed before school starts or Schock will be charged what are called liquidated damages. The board approved the $987,000 contract, roughly $300,000 more than the district’s estimate.

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