officials said this week they are concerned that the lawsuit filed in July by a group Alto residents over the of the campus could delay that project by a full year, as settlement negotiations between the parties appear to have stalled.
“We’re concerned that getting stuck in litigation will affect the timeline of the project,” district Superintendent Paul Johnson said Thursday. “As time progresses, we’re getting close to a point of no return.”
Johnson declined to say specifically when the project’s timeline would be in jeopardy. The project is scheduled to go out to bid in spring of 2012, followed by a ending in the fall of 2013. Because the project involves the creation of a temporary campus nearby during the summer, a delay would likely force the district to delay it by a full year because the temporary campus can’t be created during the school year, according to Pete Norgaard, program manager for district construction consultant Van Pelt Construction Services.
“If you miss the window you don’t miss it by three months, you miss it by a calendar year,” Norgaard told the school board at its meeting Wednesday night.
“You miss it big,” added board member Steve Sell.
Such a delay could push up the costs of the project on a number of fronts, district officials said, from the cost of materials to possible changes in the currently depressed bidding climate for contractors.
The project, which expands the Edna Maguire campus from approximately 51,000 square feet of buildings to more than 78,000, is meant to both replace a 54-year-old campus and accommodate an increasing enrollment. It is part of the district-wide modernization plan, being paid for through Measure C, the $59.8 million bond measure approved by voters in November 2009.
The lawsuit was filed July 14 (pdf attached at right) in Marin Superior Court by a group of Edna neighbors who alleged the district’s environmental review process for project didn’t sufficiently address their concerns over issues like parking, traffic and the aesthetics of the proposed new campus. The lawsuit claimed the district’s environmental review of the project was in violation of the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA).
The neighbors asked the court to order the district to void its adoption of the environmental review documents and direct it to either revise those documents or to expand the scope of the review to an environmental impact report (EIR), a broader and more expensive process. The neighbors also asked the court to order the district to pay their attorney’ fees and all related expenses.
When asked by meeting attendees Wednesday night about the status of the litigation, Johnson said, “We are in settlement negotiations, and if there’s not a pretty rapid solution, it will be delayed at least a year and that will be very expensive to taxpayers.”
The neighbors’ attorney, Kathryn Oehlschlager of Barg Coffin Lewis & Trapp in San Francisco, declined to comment this week about a possible delay to the Edna Maguire project, as did Anne Gates, one of the residents who filed the lawsuit.
Norgaard and Tim Ryan, the district’s director of maintenance and operations, were asked by the Scott Valley Homeowners’ Association to make a presentation about the project to the group last month. When they concluded, the litigants made their own presentation.
On the heels of the presentations, several Scott Valley residents, including the association’s president Francine Millman, sent the district letters of concern about the project. In her letter, Millman said the organization was uneasy about a number of aspects of the plan, most of which were mentioned in the lawsuit.
District officials contend that the project was subject to an exhaustive public input process and that the environmental documents prepared for the project were appropriate. Norgaard said the project’s regulatory documents are expected back from the state Department of General Services for approval, the last major step before the project goers out to bid.
“We just have to have that proverbial green light,” he said.