Downtown-Area High School Construction Costs Tower At $400M
Work Halted In 2000 When Contamination Found On Site
POSTED: 9:50 am PDT July 8, 2007
UPDATED: 10:05 am PDT July 8, 2007
LOS ANGELES -- The construction debacle once known as Belmont High School will cost taxpayers about $400 million by the time it opens next year, it was reported Sunday.
About half the total was spent before construction ground to a halt in 2000, when the school district learned that the site just west of downtown was plumbed with old oil wells. They learned that methane and hydrogen sulfide, potentially harmful gases associated with petroleum, were seeping to the surface.
With constantly rising material and construction prices, the cost of the restarted project, now known as Vista Hermosa, has risen from about $111 million to nearly $197 million, the Los Angeles Times reported.
When first proposed, the district hoped to complete the school for about $45 million.
For all the money spent, "they probably could have built three more high schools, maybe four,"
said 1st District City Councilman Ed Reyes, who represents the area. "That's a very painful reality. I think 70 percent of the cost was not necessary."
Recently-retired school board member David Tokofsky opposed the Belmont project for most of his 12 years in office.
"The town wants this to be finished," he told The Times. "But there hasn't been a forthright presentation of the costs."
Because of the project's troubled history, some contractors may have been charging more than their normal rates,
Jim Cowell, the head of new construction for the district.
"The project had a history," he told The Times. "There may have been a premium associated with working on this job."
Hensel Phelps Construction Co.
is the lead contractor in charge of finishing the school. In 2005, it also won a bid to build a 2,400-seat campus for $99 million.
The developer set the price for finishing the 2,600-seat Vista Hermosa at tens of millions of dollars more, The Times reported.
During the years since the fire sprinkler system was installed, the pipes rusted to the point where they had to be replaced.
Also, some of the earlier work done by Kajima Corp. and its lead contractor, the Turner Construction Company, needed to be redone. The district has since settled its disputes with Kajima/Turner.
Turner has remained a district contractor, building 11 elementary and primary schools, and a high school in the San Fernando Valley, still under construction. The total cost of the schools is about $400 million, The Times reported.