Overheated construction market delays opening of new high school in Menlo Park

Board names principal for the new school and gives it a name

An overheated construction market is a primary cause for delaying by a year the opening of a magnet and tech-oriented high school in Menlo Park. The school, which would eventually accommodate 400 students, is now set to open in August 2019.

Construction of the school at 150 Jefferson Drive in the light industrial zone of Menlo Park east of U.S. 101 is scheduled to start in May.

The opening, initially set for August 2018, was put back a year by Sequoia Union High School District staff in light of several factors, Chief Facilities Officer Matthew Zito told the governing board on March 1, including a construction market that is overheated, trade crews that are understaffed, and general contractors that, after a regional dry spell, have signed on for more work than they can handle.

The district also announced the appointment of Michael Kuliga, an administrative vice principal at Sequoia High School in Redwood City, as principal for the new school. Mr. Kuliga, who is 48 and lives in Hayward, will begin his duties as principal in July.

The board has not yet settled on a salary for Mr. Kuliga for the two years before the school opens, but it will be midway between the pay for a vice principal and that of a principal of a school such as Menlo-Atherton High, district Superintendent Jim Lianides said. Funding will come from the district's Career Technical Education Incentive Grant.

The school will be named TIDE Academy, the district says, following a 5-0 vote by the board in favor of the name on March 1. The acronym TIDE stands for technology, innovation, design and engineering, and also reflects the school's location near the Bay.

The school is expected to reach full enrollment of 400 in four years. All students, including the inaugural class of about 100 freshmen, will be chosen by lottery.

Asked about his duties as principal for a school that is two years away from opening, Mr. Kuliga replied via email.

"We are going to create an innovative program that brings together a range of partners to prepare students for both college and their future careers," he said. "My duties will include establishing relationships and partnerships with local businesses in the tech sector with the goal of incorporating career skills into the program.

"I will also be fostering the partnership with the local community college district," he said. "The bulk of the work will be ensuring that the curriculum is articulated between TIDE and the classes offered at the community college."

Smaller crews

Several factors figured in the decision to delay the opening of the school.

Trade crews working on Sequoia district capital projects have at times had to make do with seven or eight workers when 10 are called for, Mr. Zito told the board. "There simply aren't enough bodies," he said.

The hiring halls are empty, permanent employees have all been called in, and contractors are now recruiting in places such as Brentwood (75 miles away) and Turlock (110 miles away), Mr. Zito said.

When subcontractors have been called on to do corrective work on a job, they have sometimes been slow to act or have already moved on to another project, he said. The district has issued threatening notices and there have been "heated discussions" all around, Mr. Zito said.

The district has tried to accelerate jobs, but for a gain that's small, seven to 10 days, he said. At the prevailing wage, overtime costs about $100 an hour, and some crews are already working overtime, he said. Exhausted crews can't do good quality work, he said.

By setting a construction deadline for the school that can't be met, with repercussions such as extra costs and blame to follow, the district sets itself up for a "situation that's really untenable," he said.

The state is expected to approve plans for the school this month, he said. Opening the doors a year later with the school complete and having the science and maker labs ready for use doesn't run the risk of a partially built, temporary or shared school dampening the enthusiasm for the freshman class, he said.

A drawback will be the absence of enrollment relief for M-A until 2019-2020. The district proposed the magnet school as part of a bond measure in June 2014. Projections, based on elementary and middle school enrollment, showed that high school enrollment, particularly at M-A, would expand beyond the district's carrying capacity by the 2020-21 school year.

But the high cost of housing has been forcing families out, significantly in Redwood City and slightly in East Palo Alto, Mr. Lianides has said.

At M-A, the freshman class is smaller than the sophomore class, he said. The population is going to grow, he said, but not at an alarming rate.


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Like this comment
Posted by $100 an hour?
a resident of Atherton: other
on Mar 8, 2017 at 6:37 pm

I can't believe it's difficult to find good qualified workers for $100 an hour?? I'm assuming there are benefits on top of that.

What is the prevailing wage, I know an experienced contractor that will work for less.

Who should he call?

Like this comment
Posted by Menlo Voter.
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Mar 8, 2017 at 7:24 pm

Menlo Voter. is a registered user.

$110 an hour:

Welcome to the world of prevailing wages. Just for clarity the prevailing wage for OVERTIME is $100 per hour. That said, prevailing wage is required on public works projects. Prevailing wage is based on the current local UNION wage plus BENEFITS. The contractor then has to place his burden on top of that. Burden is the employers portion of employment taxes, i.e. social security, state disability etc.. Another burden is workers compensation. This can be quite costly depending on the trade. Then the contractor gets overhead and profit on top of that. Add all of those costs together and multiply by 1.5 and you can see how the cost goes to $100 per hour. You can thank our legislators for bending over to organized labor and making us pay more to have our public projects built.

4 people like this
Posted by Menlo Voter.
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Mar 8, 2017 at 7:34 pm

Menlo Voter. is a registered user.

ON another note finding good, qualified work in this area is EXTREMELY difficult. The fact is there no one just standing around waiting for a job or better pay. Everyone that is any good is already making top wages. Contractors are poaching workers from other contractors by offering higher wages, but that only goes so far. There is a shortage of skilled workers in ALL trades.

You can thank the last twenty or thirty years of "everyone has to go to college to get a good job." Never mind that its not true and by directing people that might have been better off in the trades to college where they didn't do well has created the beginnings of a shortage of skilled trades people. If things continue the way they have, in ten years we'll be paying skilled trades people $150,000 to $200,000 a year because they will be that valuable due to their scarcity.

I am a contractor. I know.

Like this comment
Posted by $100 an hour
a resident of Atherton: other
on Mar 8, 2017 at 7:54 pm

Who can my friend call for for any of these projects?

Public works?

4 people like this
Posted by Menlo Voter.
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Mar 8, 2017 at 8:19 pm

Menlo Voter. is a registered user.

Send your friend to the local union hiring halls. Does your friend actually have a trade? If not, they do take on apprentices. Money sucks for them though.

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Posted by $100 an hour?
a resident of Atherton: other
on Mar 8, 2017 at 8:25 pm

He;s a licensed general, but would probably be happy to work for $100 an hour himself

or get a contract with one of the public entities?

Who should he contact,


5 people like this
Posted by Menlo Voter.
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Mar 8, 2017 at 9:03 pm

Menlo Voter. is a registered user.

To clarify, no one is personally making $100/hour for overtime work. That is a total burdened cost to the public entity NOT what the average trades person is being paid.

If he wants to subcontract any of the plan rooms have plans on file that are currently out to bid. The closest one is in San Carlos. He won't be able to get a subcontract with any public works project that is already under contract as the GC has to name his subcontractors when he bids the job. By law (with a few exceptions) the GC is required to use those subs.

Warning to your friend. It takes a long time to get paid. You always get paid, but you're gong to be floating your payroll for a long time. Also, you will need to be bondable for the value of what you're bidding on (that costs money) and you will need to have the appropriate level of liability insurance. AND, plan on doing tons of paperwork and providing certified payroll records every month. Frankly, IMHO, public works is no place for a newbie. He'll be eaten alive.

2 people like this
Posted by $100 an hour?
a resident of Atherton: other
on Mar 8, 2017 at 11:40 pm

That explains a lot,

Too much paperwork, too many regulations,

Thanks for the explanation

6 people like this
Posted by Roberto
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Mar 10, 2017 at 3:51 am

Roberto is a registered user.

The article lacked a critical component - who can do the work Web Link
Understand, almost every contractor who fits the requirement will bid. It is not that they need the work, but schools have a distinction of their own. Once the project starts - it is almost a 100% guarantee that budget overruns will happen. The architectural plans will call for one thing, then as they start building, JCO's (Job Change Orders) follow. So in a typical scenario, the contractor with minorities and small business status will bid under water knowing that the JCO will then make up the gap and in fact, a large margin
If you are looking for validation to the above, just ask the Sequoia High School District (or any CA district for that matter)

Like this comment
Posted by SteveC
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Mar 11, 2017 at 2:40 pm

SteveC is a registered user.

Once a contract is awarded, no change orders, they are really expensive.

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Posted by Menlo Voter.
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Mar 11, 2017 at 8:35 pm

Menlo Voter. is a registered user.

"Once a contract is awarded, no change orders, they are really expensive."

Great idea. Unfortunately, the real world doesn't work that way.

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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