Inflation and recent inclement weather have posed challenges for construction projects at Mountain View and Los Altos high schools, but the district still believes it's on course to have the funds necessary to complete the planned building work.
Mountain View Los Altos Union High School District officials hosted a ribbon cutting ceremony last week to celebrate the completion of a new auxiliary gym at Mountain View High, marking the latest step in a series of projects funded by a $295 million bond measure that voters approved in 2018.
Having a new gym is a big deal for Mountain View High's athletic programs, Athletic Director Tim Lugo said. The school already has a "large" gym and a "small" gym, but the small gym doesn't have a regulation size basketball or volleyball court. The new auxiliary gym does, which will make finding space for sports teams easier, Lugo said.
"This gym actually opens up a lot more possibilities for all of our teams to … get their practices in," Lugo said.
Previously completed bond projects include new classroom buildings at both high schools, which opened at the start of the 2021-22 school year, an auxiliary gym and adjacent multipurpose space at Los Altos High, and an additional synthetic turf field on each campus.
Still underway are new administrative buildings on both campuses, which are expected to be done in time for next school year, and a new home for Freestyle Academy behind the district office, which has faced delays. The district is also preparing to begin making improvements to existing classrooms this summer.
Associate Superintendent of Business Services Mike Mathiesen told the Voice that the district expects to have enough money to complete the projects that it planned for the bond program.
Although there have been significant price increases for construction in the last one to two years, Mathiesen said that the district has been aided by the fact that it locked in contracts for major projects before the pandemic.
"We were fortunate that we did our most expensive projects first and went out to bid before we saw these sharp cost escalations," Mathiesen said.
The district also set aside extra money, known as a contingency, for each project, as well as for the bond program overall, to account for any unexpected costs. The overall program contingency was $15 million, which is now nearly entirely allocated to current and future projects, Mathiesen said.
"The number of projects remaining is smaller, especially in dollar value, so you can start to use some of that overall program contingency to pad the budgets for the remaining projects," Mathiesen said.
While earlier projects moved ahead before inflation spiked, the district has seen rising costs for its remaining projects. This past spring, the school board approved budget revisions to reallocate money so that more was available for the modernization of existing classes.
"We quickly saw that those costs were going to go over the original budgeted amount," Mathiesen said.
Though the district believes it will still be able to complete the projects, Mathiesen said that rising costs have forced the district to be more cautious with its projects and take extra care to avoid "scope creep," where additional items get added, raising costs.
Projects have also been placed in priority order, with certain items, like upgrading the libraries (which Mathiesen said were built comparatively more recently), moved to the end of the list.
The district has applied for roughly $30 million in state funding to reimburse some of its construction costs. If that money is received, it can be used to pay for any remaining projects, Mathiesen said.
Remaining project timelines
One major project currently underway is constructing new student services buildings on both campuses, which will include space for administrative offices, academic counselors, therapists, and a student union. Mountain View High's building will also have a cafeteria and kitchen.
Although recent wet weather impacted construction, Mathiesen said that the plan is still to have the buildings ready for staff to move in over the summer.
What has faced delays is the opening of Freestyle Academy's new campus. The two-year art and digital media program was originally supposed to move into its new space last fall, but that got pushed back.
One major issue has been getting PG&E to connect a new electric line to the site. According to Mathiesen, the district passed its inspection in November, but the utility company couldn't get the district on its schedule for the final connection until mid-February.
Without power, there is interior work like installing flooring that can't be done, because it requires the building to be heated. The recent heavy rains have also impacted exterior work on the site, including things like completing walkways and landscaping. The current goal is to move into the new campus over spring break in April, Mathiesen said.
Another project that's awaiting completion is tennis courts at Mountain View High. The asphalt is in place, but the top coat requires a minimum outdoor temperature for a few consecutive days, Mathiesen said. The plan is to have the courts ready for the majority of the spring sports season, Mathiesen said, but they won't necessarily be finished before the Feb. 1 start date.
District eyes next phase of bond projects
The next major stage of construction will be modernizing existing classrooms at both high schools, including expanding some rooms at Mountain View High. According to Mathiesen, these expansions hit delays in getting state approval because of questions over what types of seismic upgrades are required. The district hopes to solicit construction bids later this spring and start work in the summer, Mathiesen said.
The upgrades include new roofing, heating and cooling systems, and windows. The work will be done in phases, to accommodate the need for teachers to move into temporary spaces while their classrooms are under construction. The expectation is that it will take at least the next two school years, Mathiesen said.