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Funds OK'd to speed up Hillview rebuild

Original post made on Jul 24, 2012

With crews working overtime to complete the rebuilding of Hillview Middle School before the first day of school, the Menlo Park City School District board on July 16 unanimously approved spending up to an additional $50,000 to "accelerate" the project.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Monday, July 23, 2012, 4:35 PM

Comments (19)

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Posted by Susan Smith
a resident of Woodside: Skywood/Skylonda
on Jul 24, 2012 at 8:11 am

I must have this wrong...or do I? I thought Hillview School has outstanding bonds from previous construction whose obligations had to be fulfilled before financing for this project began. Is that right? If I am correct, isn;t tis illegal?

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Posted by Unbelievable!
a resident of Menlo Park: Linfield Oaks
on Jul 24, 2012 at 12:51 pm

Mr. Sheikholeslami stood before the Board on countless occasions to emphatically state that the Hillview building would be done in time -- especially because we had so little rain last winter that they were able to wall up the structure and continue working even when the unexpected spring rain came. So typical that this announcement and approval happened in July when everyone was out of town. Menlo Park City School District has taken a bath on building overages. When another school builder working in a different city was asked about the possibility of missing their deadline, he reported that it was prohibited by his contract, and if he did so he would actually have to pay the district penalty fees. But in Menlo Park we pay them for missing deadlines! We pay Mr. Sheikholeslami to oversee the project and make sure this sort of thing wouldn't happen! Everyone is getting rich on this project except the taxpayers. The entire Board of Education should be dismissed over this mess. But that will never happen, because the Menlo Atherton Education Foundation will just ask parents to pony up an extra $50,000 on top of the $4 million they already raise to make up for the mistake. Easy come, easy go.

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Posted by upset taxpayer
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Jul 25, 2012 at 7:45 am

Unbelievable is right. If there is an extra $50k available, it should go to programs for our kids, not to reward a contractor who isn't performing. If the contracts weren't written to provide incentive for early completion or penalty for tardy completion, then the authors and negotiators of the contract need to be held accountable. And the contractor needs to be held accountable for the delayed project, not rewarded. This is abuse of taxpayer money, the goodwill of parents, and programs for our kids.

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Posted by Menlo Voter
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Jul 25, 2012 at 7:58 am

Yes, that awful cheating contractor. It's really too bad none of you know what the hell your talking about. I have been involved in public works construction. In my experience, the contracts typically have liquidated damages for every day a project comes in late. Those damages only aply when the delay is the result of the contractor not performing. There are numerous things that can cause a project to be delayed which are beyond the control of the contractor. When that occurs and the owner still wants the project finished on time he pays for "acceleration." Acceleration typically consists of working overtime. The cost of the acceleration is only the incremental cost between the base hourly rate and the overtime rate. This is because the hours necessary to do the work have already been figured, they are just working the same hours in a shorter period of time.

In my experience, if the owner is paying for acceleration it is because there has been a delay which was NOT caused by the contractor. If the delay was caused by the contractor, he would be expected to pick up the cost of the acceleration or end up paying liquidated damages. In my experience, those damages can be quite high and any contractor with half a brain will do everything they can to make sure they don't finish late so as to avoid them.

So folks, in all likelyhood, the school district is paying for this acceleration because something unexpected was discovered or something outside of the control of the contractor has occurred causing a delay. It could even be that the delay was caused by something the district did or didn't do. The district wouldn't be paying for acceleration if they didn't have to.

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Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Jul 25, 2012 at 8:08 am

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

"The district wouldn't be paying for acceleration if they didn't have to."

Perhaps the district failed to include in the contract liquidated damages for a contractor caused delay?

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Posted by Menlo Voter
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Jul 25, 2012 at 8:12 am


it's possible, but highly unlikely. If they didn't it is a very large oversight on the part of the district. They're pretty much standard in every public works contract I've seen. Especially schools as they are particularly time sensitive.

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Posted by Read carefully, folks
a resident of Menlo Park: Felton Gables
on Jul 25, 2012 at 9:10 am

The story states:

"(The project) was slowed along the way by change orders that involve 'unforeseen conditions, district-initiated changes, and required clarification/changes made by the architect that result in added work,' according to Mr. Sheikholeslami's written report."

Clear enough? You might fault the district for all the change orders they made, but my understanding is that change orders are not unusual, and as the district pointed out, the project was a very complicated one.

$1.7 million worth of work from change orders doesn't seem that high for a $52 million project to me. Menlo Voter, you're in the business, aren't you. What's your take on the cost of change orders on a project this large?

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Posted by Menlo Voter
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Jul 25, 2012 at 10:25 am


for a $52 million project, $1.7 million is not unheard of. I ran a portion of the SF airport expansion years back. The contract was $25 million and we ended up with about $4 million in change orders. They were largely driven by owner changes and incomplete plans or plans that did not match field conditions.

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Posted by Paul
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Jul 25, 2012 at 12:54 pm

That's really helpful information, Menlo Voter. Thanks.

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Posted by Lucky
a resident of Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
on Jul 25, 2012 at 1:59 pm

Thanks indeed Menlo Voter. Useful to have field experience govern people's comments rather than wild speculation, especially when public spending is concerned. Three points I would make to concerned parties who raised issues earlier.

* The contract, of course, included liquidated damages clause, but the district and conditions-driven change orders overrode.

* Measure U bond funding can't be used for teachers/instruction so the notion that this money could have been better used for teaching is disingenuous.

* I would encourage our civic gadflys like Unbeleivable! and taxpayer to build a more detailed and specific case for waste if they want a constructive outcome, rather than exposing their fallacious kneejerk reactions.

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Posted by Unbelievable
a resident of Menlo Park: Linfield Oaks
on Jul 25, 2012 at 7:15 pm

I was responding the to information available in The Almanac article, not any insider info. The change orders that involve "unforeseen conditions, district-initiated changes, and required clarification/changes made by the architect that result in added work" is mostly old news. Any changes resulting in additional cost would have required Mr. Sheikholeslami to have gone before the Board for approval earlier. The architect can't possibly be making changes this late in the game -- the building is up and the interior is configured. The decision to add a more elaborate theater lighting package was approved last winter, as was the decision to add a covered lunch shelter. And as of the last regular Board Meeting of the school year in May, there was no mention of any delay due to those additions. As a matter of fact, parents have received multiple email notices over the summer about the big Ribbon Cutting Ceremony on August 28th. So when did this sudden need for an acceleration fee occur? I would think that if they struck buried Indian remains or a geological fault line in the last month, we would have heard about it. The Board is responsible for keeping this project on time and on budget and they did not do so. Period.

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Posted by Menlo Voter
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Jul 25, 2012 at 8:17 pm


" The architect can't possibly be making changes this late in the game -- the building is up and the interior is configured."

Either you're kidding or you have no experience in construction. I have had architects and clients making changes at the last possible moment. And that's not an unusual occurance. In fact, I just had a client change their tile selection AFTER we started laying the tile. All of those things create delay. Delays cost money. (What do you think tearing out already installed tile costs?) In my experience, if the client spends that money at the front end on design (they usually don't because they are trying to save money)they end up spending it on the back end and it almost always costs more. The design has to be done. It either gets done at the begining before work starts or it gets done after it is under way. If enough money gets spent on design on the front end it usually results in lower costs for change orders on the back end. Unfortunately, everyone is looking for the "best deal" and they get what they pay for - incomplete or underdeveloped plans that eventually have to be devloped so the project can actually be built.

I feel for the school district because folks like you are demanding that they spend the minimum on design and then bitch when the bill comes due for additional design that you weren't initially willing to pay for. You get what you pay for. You pay a little you get a little design. You also get a design that will be rife with change orders from the contractor because without complete design details the contractor has to make assumptions or exclude work that is not clearly defined. Eventually, those incomplete designs have to be completed. It almost always costs more money than was allowed for. The contractor isn't a mind reader. He is also competing to provide the lowest price. If he includes what he thinks will probably be required to actually build the job, he won't get the job. Bottom line is if you want an accurate construction budget, pay the amount of money that you need to provide the contractor with a COMPLETE set of construction drawings.

That said there are also things that are unforseen and unknown. Basically because no one has xray vision. Things don't always get built the way you expect they were built.

So, I think you need to take a chill pill and calm down. This is a normal part of the public works construction process.

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Posted by Bob
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Jul 25, 2012 at 8:30 pm

Is this the same school board who hired the person from Mountain View with a questionable history to be superintendent and paid him a salary of $2000,000+?

And the same school board with 2 incumbents up for re-election? Web Link

And when is this school board going to ask us for more money again?

While I support education, I don't like to see poor management of funds.

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Posted by Boo Bob
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Jul 25, 2012 at 8:44 pm

Bob - You're a bit over the top. $2M? Nope, it was $200K, similar to the previous Superintendent's comp. That's the market, that's not anyone's fault. Questionable? A maybe a bit, but so far, so great - Maurice is doing an excellent job, very impressive.

How 'bout YOU run for the School Board as a volunteer, 40+ hour a week job, dealing with ridiculous parents screaming at them because it is all about their kids, etc.

We are lucky to have this group of individuals representing us.

The School Board has NEVER asked anyone for money, that's not their job. Please do your research before you start the negative comments.

This is very typical of any construction job, that's well documented.

How 'bout feeling good that our city has 4 practically brand new facilities that we can all be very proud of, with a new forward thinking Superintendent, that is helping us indirectly maintain or increase the values of our homes.

Thank you School Board!

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Posted by Responsible Oversight Please
a resident of Menlo Park: South of Seminary/Vintage Oaks
on Jul 26, 2012 at 1:24 pm

It's one thing for building plans to change if you're building your dream house or you're a billion dollar company. But not for a public school district that is supposedly strapped for cash and knew at the beginning of the project exactly how much money they had to work with. The district has employed the same architect for all four projects and did not low-ball his fee up front, believe me. They even changed the school calendar for two years and had a 14 week long extended summer break to allow adequate time for completion. The Board may work long hours with no pay, but that doesn't mean they make responsible decisions. There should never have been a change made this summer that would delay the finish of the building.

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Posted by Menlo Voter
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Jul 26, 2012 at 1:52 pm


according to the article it wasn't just changes to the plans. There were unforseen conditions and it sounds like there also had to be changes made to some of the structural work. It's construction. The only time a project comes in "on time" is when you allow more time than you actually need to build a project. The problem with schools is that they want to jam too much construciton into too short a time to avoid disprupting the school schedule.

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Posted by Silly Me
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Jul 27, 2012 at 12:40 pm

Gee, Menlo Voter. THAT is the problem with schools??? That they expect to complete construction without disrupting the school schedule?! What do you expect? That is the understanding and agreement a builder enters into when they take a contract to build a school. You are clearly a builder and not the parent of a child who has been out of school since June 1 and won't return again until September 4th. Those pesky students are always spoiling things for the adults.

Is it really too much to ask that the school be completed on time and on budget? These are taxpayer dollars we're talking about. The School Board has an obligation to provide responsible oversight. This situation is a major black eye for them.

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Posted by project watcher
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Jul 27, 2012 at 12:55 pm

Silly you, apparently the board budgeted for contingencies (isn't that what all contracts include?) and the new money is an allocation from that budgeted contingency. That's what I'm getting from this story. The staff member whose name I can't spell said in the story that the project is coming in on budget.

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Posted by Menlo Voter
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Jul 27, 2012 at 1:01 pm


apparently you missed my point. That being that a given amount of construction takes a given amount of time. Typically on schools they try to jam too much work into too short a span of time.

I am a builder and I am also a father who has had kids out of school for the summer. I realize it can be taxing.

That said, I'm sure the contractor that won the job for this school had every intention of finishing on time and on budget. It's fixed price, he loses money if it's not on budget unless the budget gets increase by change order. I'm sure he wants to be on time as well because, in all likelyhood, there are liquidated damages for every day he's late. The problem in this case seems to be multifold - unforseen circumstances (builders are neither mind readers nor do they have x-ray vision), changes initiated by the district and changes initiated or required by the architect. Obviously these things are adding time to the over all construction schedule - they usually do. So if the school is to be completed in the same time frame the district will have to pay for acceleration.

Without full knowledge of the plans and specifications I can't say whether there was poor oversight. I don't think you can either. As the builder isn't a mind reader neither is the school board. Unforseen circumstances are just exactly that - unforseeable.

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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