Watchdogs Condemn Emergency Maintenance

Buildings and Grounds staff work on a busted pipe beneath Conlan Hall. The maintenance temporarily closed Ocean campus. (Photo by Franchon Smith/The Guardsman)
Buildings and Grounds staff work on a busted pipe beneath Conlan Hall. The maintenance temporarily closed Ocean campus. (Photo by Franchon Smith/The Guardsman)

By Marco Siler-Gonzales

Leaky water pumps, deteriorating buildings, and an out-of-control boiler have all sprung to the forefront of City College’s maintenance priorities. The Board of Trustees (BOT) responded by declaring an ‘emergency situation’ on Dec. 10, 2015, which authorizes the school to quickly contract labor and purchase materials without advertising or inviting bids.

Critics say City College is taking a wide stance on the California Public Contract Code ‘emergency’ situation clause for a $3.8 million maintenance project that will dip into the school’s maintenance fund and bond monies.

Cathryn Hilliard of the Construction Industry Force Account Council (CIFAC) said these maintenance issues could have been avoided if action were taken earlier.

“The way that it was done was not transparent for how and why these projects needed to be completed,” Hilliard said. “No one could object. They need to be clear on how they spend bond monies.”   

The declaration of emergency allows the school to sidestep the state mandated process of contract bidding and advertisements which safeguards against fraud and favoritism when public money is spent.

“This work cannot be accomplished in a sufficiently timely manner if the repairs are required to be subject to the formal bidding and advertising requirements of the Public Contract Code,” the BOT measure stated.

City College spokesperson Jeff Hamilton was not able to respond to questions regarding whether or not the school has been in contact with CIFAC or give a specific timeline to when these projects would be completed.

Damage Control

The list of needed repairs is sizable. There is the failure of a condensate pump in the Creative Arts Building that has made temperature control impossible, and an overexposed and quickly deteriorating hot water pump and boiler in the Student Health Center.

There is also an aging water line under Conlan Hall which sprang a leak and flooded the library in December and the relocation of the rapidly deteriorating Child Care Center are all on the docket for maintenance.  

“This has been a problem for a number of years, but the system has finally failed beyond repair.”

-Board of Trustees measure Dec. 10, 2015

Hillard said these maintenance needs have been long standing and are not an excuse to bypass the state mandated public-works process. The measure signed off by the BOT even admits that some of these hazards, such as the condensate pump in the Creative Arts Building, have been in the works for years.

“This has been a problem for a number of years, but the system has finally failed beyond repair, and the recent and continuing bout of cold weather has exacerbated the situation,” the measure stated.

Ron Gerhard, vice chancellor of finance and administration, told SF Weekly on Jan. 6 that the college would forgo formal bidding and advertising process on issues in need of immediate repair.

Even if we were to do that now, given the urgency needed to get these things fixed as soon as possible, we wouldn’t be looking at closing out the bid until probably February,” Gerhard said.

The urgency of repair is certainly felt by students and faculty. Music department Chair Madeline Mueller sent a faculty-wide email on Feb. 5 expressing her concern over the roasting room temperatures on Ocean campus,

“I have heard students say that they are going to drop their classes because they can’t face a future semester of such discomfort due to the heat in their classrooms” Mueller said.

Mueller’s concern places the maintenance hazards in a practical perspective: these maintenance issues need to get fixed. Yet these projects are paid by taxpayer money, and watchdogs such as Hilliard remain critical of City College’s transparency.  

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Send an email to: Marco Siler-Gonzales


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