The City College shell game - Page 3

How city college plays fast and loose with $130 million in bond money

A brief summary of the projects appears in voter guides, but the full bond proposals are filed with the San Francisco Department of Elections, and you'd have to go there to copy or read the tomes, which contain a lot of qualifying paragraphs that look like this one, which refers to an academic building planned in conjunction with San Francisco State University:

"The college will aggressively pursue state and federal funding to support the 'joint-use' concept with San Francisco State University. If funds are not forthcoming, the 'local' funds will be utilized to support the construction of the new Child Care Center and the new Student Health Service Center."

Such fine-print disclaimers enabled Chancellor Day and Vice Chancellor Goldstein to later depict multimillion-dollar transfers away from academic construction as entirely legal, even though the Child Care Center and health clinic never appeared as official stand-alone projects in bond proposals presented to voters.

Between 2001 and 2005 the school asked for a total of $40 million to construct in tandem with SFSU the joint-use facility, which was slated to include new classrooms and laboratories where students could work toward bachelor's degrees in education, health care, and child development. The project is now $26 million over budget and remains in the design phase. Since 2003 about $20 million that voters were told was going to the project has been reallocated to other projects facing increased costs.

A facilities manager at San Jose–Evergreen Community College District, Robert Dias, was incredulous when we presented our findings to him. He said he'd heard of cost overruns statewide but "not to this extent."

"We have experienced rising costs, but we planned for it," Dias said. "Construction costs were going through the roof, but we did creative things to manage it."

On the other hand, Fred Harris, vice chancellor of the California Community College System, based in Sacramento, said the figures didn't necessarily surprise him and that the state as a result has adjusted its guidelines for what individual school districts can claim as costs.*

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