Surety company sues contractor and college can do nothing but wait

Taft College’s stalled $17.6 million Student Center remains stuck in neutral and there’s no end in sight.

That was the word from Brock McMurray, executive vice president of administrative services, in his report last week to the citizens oversight committee charged with overseeing the $39.8 million construction bond (Measure A) approved by voters in 2004. By using investments, grant funds and other sources of revenue the district was able to leverage that original amount to $44.5 million.

The Student Center is the last major project on a list that included a community technology center ($19.2 million), science modernization ($5 million) Child Development Center upgrades ($4 million), technology upgrade ($4 million), TIL Center ($15 million), M&O facility ($3.2 million) and Student Services ($5.5 million)

Of the $17.5 million earmarked for the Student Center, nearly $13 million comes from Measure A funds.

The contractor hired for the job fell behind schedule early and was accused of doing shoddy work, leading to his dismissal. That threw the project into the hands of the surety company guaranteeing the work, thereby putting it all the hands of lawyers representing the district, the contractor and the surety company.

McMurray expressed his frustration over the Student Center project that was supposed to be up and running by now and the work of the Oversight Committee completed.

“All we can do is wait,” he said. “We are continuing to discuss the situation with the surety company.”

He said discussions focus on the financial issues and what needs to be done to finish the project, taking into consideration what’s at stake for the contractor and the college district.

The surety company did seek bids on completing the project and has discussed with those firms ways to get the project finished, McMurray said.

“We’re trying to get to that final agreement.”

He said the surety company has filed a lawsuit against the contractor.

“There’s quite a lot of dispute between the contractor and the surety company. There’s just not a lot we can do. It’s been a long, frustrating process. Surety has not been responding as fast as wee would like. There was a bunch of work in question that we did not approve, but we are very engaged in trying to work through the process.”

There is still some minor work going on, however, McMurray said.

“The science department is converting classrooms into chemistry labs so now we have more room to hold chemistry classes.”

On another topic, McMurray said spring semester enrollment is strong.

“We are projecting 2,900 FTES (full-time equivalent students). Last year we had 2,800 and the year before 2,600 so that’s really encouraging.”

The Oversight Committee also received copies of the annual Measure A audit that will be presented to the district’s Board of Trustees by committee chair Roger Miller.

(Dennis McCall represents senior citizens on the Oversight Committee and reports on the committee’s actions.)