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COLLEGES WASTE MILLIONS RED TAPE, DELAYS RUNNING UP LACCD BILLS.

Byline: Lisa M. Sodders Staff Writer

Endless reviews of design plans by Los Angeles Community College District officials have led to delays in the $2.2 billion construction program and may be wasting millions in taxpayer money, a new independent review warns.

College officials said Thursday that they will move quickly to streamline their operations in response to consultant Duane Hickling's finding that months-long delays were being caused by too much bureaucratic red tape. He said plans are being reviewed again and again, compounding problems for the 4-year-old Proposition A/AA bond program already beset by the skyrocketing cost of construction materials.

Hickling, whose company was paid $64,000 to do the study at the request of the citizens bond oversight committee, estimated that even a 12-week delay on a $10 million project - the cost of Pierce College's new student services building - could cost the district as much as $250,000.

``A delay of two or three months can have a detrimental effect on a proposed project budget,'' he wrote in his report. ``The analysis of schedules reviewed indicates that some projects may in fact be delayed up to six months.''

Hickling recommended that the district eliminate unnecessary reviews, take some people out of the review process, and create more accountability.

He also suggested giving more power to on-site project managers at each college and locking in construction costs with hard bids as soon as possible.

District officials vowed to take swift action, and set a May 27 deadline for streamlining the program.

``It's clear the message from the board is less talk and more building,'' said board President Kelly Candaele. ``We're going to keep putting pressure on everyone we employ.''

While the report did not cite specific project delays, the district has already reported a number of delays and cost overruns:

--Los Angeles City College's student admissions center and parking garage was delayed eight months when officials submitted plans that exceeded the $16 million budget by about $7 million. The plans had to be completely scaled back to fit into the $16 million budget, wasting an undetermined amount of money and staff time.

--Pierce College was told by the Division of the State Architect to do additional landscape and drainage work on its $10.8 million College Services Center, adding $1 million to the final cost.

--Mission College's master plan is still pending, while a three-way land swap between the college, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and Los Angeles County drags on. The late master plan has held up some projects and cost an undetermined amount of money.

Escalating construction costs have already forced the district to scale back the scope of many projects and table others entirely unless private funds can be raised.

Pierce College announced in December that it had made $15.8 million in cuts, including putting a $3.8 million art gallery on hold.

``If I had to give them an academic grade (on the construction program) I would make it a C-plus,'' said Hickling, who presented the report at Wednesday's LACCD Board of Trustees meeting.

Kris Vosburgh, executive director of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association, called the report a ``wake-up call,'' and said taxpayers should continue to pressure the district.

``Would you eat at a restaurant that the health department had given a C-plus?'' Vosburgh said. ``We're often skeptical about paying for consultants, but if this has resulted in action that is going to streamline the bureaucracy, this sounds like a net plus for taxpayers.''

The entire Proposition A/AA construction project is being overseen by the consulting firm DMJM/JGM, which will be paid up to $8.8 million. Hickling said DMJM was doing too many reviews at too many stages.

``There's no interest on our part to making this more complicated,'' said Fred Gans, vice president of DMJM Management, noting that DMJM's contract with the district restricts it to no more than 4 percent of the total cost of the bonds. The LACCD has told DMJM that its costs are fixed and if it runs out of money, it will be working for free.

According to the report, several project managers told Hickling they were frustrated by the delays and felt they didn't have enough control over the process.

``Multiple levels of review mean multiple opportunities for delay,'' Hickling told the board. ``Reviews are not necessarily a substitute for quality work the first time.''

The report also said the district underestimated by 38 percent the amount of money it will spend on startup costs, such as design work. Hickling called the board's goal of 18 percent ``an admirable stretch goal,'' but said 25 percent is more realistic, and construction delays could push that even higher.

``If a project sits in the planning phase for excessive amounts of time, that's like flypaper in terms of attracting costs,'' Hickling said.

Larry Eisenberg, executive director for facilities management for the district, said the district reviewed project personnel last month, and trimmed DMJM/JGM's staff by 25 percent, or 18 people. But he said the district intended to do that all along as the college project managers were hired and became more involved.

Mark A. Iles, chairman of the committee, called the board ``courageous'' for hiring Hickling when there was no state requirement to do so.

``There are some problems,'' Iles said. ``But the reality is, these folks are serious.''

Lisa M. Sodders, (818) 713-3663

lisa.sodders(at)dailynews.com
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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Article Type:Statistical Data Included
Date:Mar 25, 2005
Words:906
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