Criticisms compel district to mend building woes

After a Civil Grand Jury described San Mateo Union High School District construction projects as “fiascos” and “debacles,” the district has taken steps to ensure that it protects itself from construction pitfalls.

Part of the grand jury’scriticism of the district is related to the rampant cost increases attempted by Skanska, the East Bay company once tasked with the almost $300 million renovation and upgrading of district campuses using Measure M taxpayer money.

The construction report was the third grand jury report that blasted the district and its handling of funds and construction projects. The district is still working on its response to an earlier grand jury report that criticized their business practices and “fiscal responsibilities.”

The latest report, issued earlier this year, stated: “The Grand Jury [has] witnessed debacles such as the recent San Mateo Union High School District Measure D cost overruns and Measure M contracting problems.”

At tonight’s district board meeting, the trustees will approve the formal response to the third report, and several members of the body said they agreed with the report’s findings.

In the Skanska case, costs jumped by tens of millions of dollars, and the board severed its ties with the company to avoid the higher bills.

“We avoided a fiasco and a debacle when we did not enter into a contract with Skanska,” said Trustee Linda Lees Dwyer. “The district is now very focused on managing these bond dollars. We’re putting people and processes in place to make sure that everything is closely documented.”

The report called for the county superintendent of schools to organize each district’s projects and “adopt policies and practices” to ensure that mismanagement is avoided.

“We’ve learned that it is very easy to take advantage of a public entity, and if we’re not careful, we’ll get hooked,” said Trustee Marcia Cohn-Lyle. “So we hired a cadre of professionals to prevent the same thing from happening again. This whole situation has made us very leery.”

That cadre includes an in-house construction manager for the district to handle major projects that falloutside the board’s realm of expertise, and Attorney Mark Haesloop, retained as a consultant for construction projects.

jgoldman@examiner.com

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