Overheated construction market delays opening of high school in Menlo Park | March 15, 2017 | Almanac | Almanac Online |


Schools - March 15, 2017

Overheated construction market delays opening of high school in Menlo Park

by Dave Boyce

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.

Building 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 construction 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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