PISD construction projects over budget
Pasadena Independent School District officials are facing budget issues, after recently awarded construction contracts total significantly more than the estimates approved by voters in a 2014 bond referendum.
In the past six months, six construction contracts have been awarded totaling $117.6 million – more than $25 million over original budget estimates proposed in the bond election.
The PISD Board of Trustees recently approved a $35.8 million contract to construct the new Dobie ninth-grade center at Fuqua and Monroe to the lowest bidder, Drymalla Construction. Original estimates, however, were set at only $27 million – nearly $9 million less.
Similar discrepancies have occurred throughout the district.
A recent contract to construct the L.F. Smith replacement campus was awarded to Drymalla Construction for $19.8 million – $4.2 million more than original budget estimates of $15.6 million.
A contract to construct the Pomeroy replacement campus was awarded to Durotech Construction for $25.5 million – $8.3 million more than original budget estimates of $17.2 million.
Contracts to construct early college facilities at Pasadena Memorial, Sam Rayburn and South Houston high schools totaled roughly $20 million – more than $5 million above original budget estimates.
School officials said a shortage of skilled laborers, combined with an overabundance of ongoing construction projects in the area, is largely responsible for the sharp increase in construction costs.
When the district’s $175.5 million bond was passed in 2014, officials estimated the average cost for high school construction would be $199 per square foot. By comparison, however, construction of the new 170,000 square-foot Dobie ninth-grade center totaled $211 per square foot.
“In the past two years, city voters have approved $5.6 billion in school bonds,” said Kevin Fornof, associate superintendent of PISD’s Facilities and Construction Department. “And there’s around 50 districts in the area. Contractors can pretty much pick and choose what projects they want. We used to get eight to 10 bids per project, now we’re lucky if we get three. We’ve talked to the contractors. They just don’t have the personnel.”
While district officials are weighing multiple options to close the spending gap, PISD Superintendent Dr. DeeAnn Powell said a possible solution would be to postpone the construction of Intermediate School No. 11, which was to be constructed in the Riverstone Ranch subdivision. Included in the 2014 bond, the proposed $29.5 million campus would relieve overcrowding at Thompson and Beverly Hills intermediate schools.
City and school officials are preparing for the state’s controversial new “campus carry” law, which is set to take effect at public universities Monday, Aug. 1.
Signed into law by Gov. Greg Abbott on June 1, 2015, Senate Bill 11 provides that license holders may carry a concealed handgun throughout university campuses.
The law will take effect on community college campuses the following year on Aug. 1, 2017.
Private universities may opt out of the new law. Both Rice University and the University of St. Thomas have announced they will still prohibit the practice.
While S.B. 1 gives public universities some discretion to regulate campus carry, the law stipulates that these rules and regulations may neither “generally prohibit” nor “have the effect of generally prohibiting” license holders from carrying concealed handguns on campus.
Existing concealed handgun regulations will still apply to the new statute. The law will not allow “open carry” on campus.
The new regulation is not without its opponents, with many still trying to stop its implementation and others debating on how to best oversee it.
A group of three University of Texas professors recently sued their employer and the state, claiming the law is forcing the school to impose “overly-solicitous, dangerously-experimental gun policies” that violate the First, Second and 14th Amendments.
“Compelling professors at a public university to allow, without any limitation or restriction, students to carry concealed guns in their classrooms chills their First Amendment rights to academic freedom,” the lawsuit states.
Both the City of Houston and San Jacinto College have suggested creating task forces to address the issue.
“I think it is important (that) the City of Houston works very closely with all of our colleges and universities in Houston to make sure that we do our part to make sure that the periphery of the campuses are safe and to work in collaboration with the security forces on the campuses themselves,” Mayor Sylvester Turner said at a recent press conference.
City Council Member Dwight Boykins also voiced his opinion on the issue.
“When taking into account the safety of our youth, especially in light of the many recent gun-related tragedies, I do not see a need for college students to carry firearms on campus and into places of learning,” Boykins said. “College campuses have active police departments who serve to protect the safety of our students and ensure that their focus remains on learning, growing and making positive contributions back to society.”
A primary concern for San Jacinto College officials is that the school now allows high school students to attend through dual-credit and early college high school courses.
“Although the campus carry law created by Senate Bill 11 in the 84th Legislative Session will not go into affect for community colleges until August 2017, we have started considering the impact of this law on San Jacinto College,” said San Jacinto College Chancellor Brenda Hellyer. “The college has engaged employees and students in conversations and surveys and will create a task force to review the comments collected. In addition, the college will continue conversations in the fall semester and will also engage community partners who will be impacted, such as our independent school district dual credit and early college high school partners. The task force will make recommendations to administration on reasonable rules for areas of the campus where guns will not be allowed. We are also continuing to monitor the rules established by the four-year universities for implementation in fall 2016, in order to understand their challenges and issues with implementation. The administration will draft policy based on the interpretation of the law and the input of the task force and present it to the Board of Trustees in the spring 2017 semester for their consideration.”
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