The fields project at El Cerrito High School is overdue and over budget. The fields were scheduled to be available to students before school opened in August, then postponed to September, then November, then December; at this point the engineers are unwilling to give any date for completion.
Questions about delays and cost overruns receive muddled answers—18 days of rain (causing at least four months of delay!), special dirt, tennis bounce wall, paths and lights, access to the stadium for students during construction. The plan was approved by WCCUSD (West Contra Costa Unified School District) in spring 2010, but no work was done until 2011. The penalty for lateness was given as $1,000/day, minuscule in a $12,000,000-$13,000,000 budget (at last count before the new delays were announced).
Outdoor basketball courts, which were heavily used by students and community members at the old site, have been repeatedly promised but are now eliminated from the plans for the new fields. Coaches (for competitive teams), soccer moms, tennis players, and neighbors seem indifferent to constituencies outside their own. Young people are not generally represented at meetings, and certainly not kids who would use the courts for recreation. We say “exercise” and “just say no,” but WCCUSD won’t provide this very inexpensive minimal resource. How about the kid who wants to shoot a few hoops? Or play in a pickup game? Sorry, designers, contractors, administration, and Board can’t put up a few baskets and draw a few lines on level ground for the community.
Work on the new football stadium? Expect “special dirt” there too, rain will no doubt occur, and changes will routinely be needed. The WCCUSD design and construction team will be surprised by everything! Geotech has already given wrong projections for the high-school building site, for the temporary campus, and for the baseball/soccer fields. Around the world, there are athletic fields even in places where it often rains. But here, our professionals are full of excuses and delays.
Despite the expensive new Taj El Cerrito, the high school received the lowest academic ranking. It is now obvious that paying architects does not yield better students. The initial cost of construction for ECHS is going to exceed a quarter of a BILLION dollars, not counting years of interest on the bonds. Our heirs will still be paying, while property values in El Cerrito reflect despair about our public schools along with high taxes for those schools. WCCUSD administration chose to request funds for bonds (construction) and practically guaranteed denial of the subsequent parcel tax vote (money for operations).
There is no realistic completion date for El Cerrito High School; construction will eventually cover at least a decade of disruption for students, staff, and citizens. In any private setting, we would not be hearing, “Don’t worry, there will always be money,” and a project of this size would be completed at least close to on time and on budget, or penalties would be paid. The center fields are going to take DOUBLE the time projected. ECHS is the project with which I am most familiar, but with its enormous budget and presumed oversight, it is probably an indicator of how the BILLION-dollar (base cost, estimated at least three BILLION before finally paid) construction program is going. Citizens should be more concerned—and let the Board members know of their concern.
Geline Covey is a long-time El Cerrito resident and tax-payer. She has volunteered at Harding, Portola, and El Cerrito High Schools. She has attended many site, fields, facilities, and school board meetings, and continues to take an active interest in ongoing construction at ECHS.