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Community College District halts spending on construction

The Los Angeles Community College District has suspended all spending on new construction projects while it studies how to pay for building maintenance once it finishes its vast campus expansion program.

State budget cuts have made it hard for the district to cover its growing maintenance costs as it opens scores of new buildings under its $5.7-billion bond program.

The moratorium announced Monday by Chancellor Daniel LaVista will postpone or halt 67 projects planned by the district’s nine colleges but not yet underway or under contract. The stalled buildings include such projects as a $38-million fashion and fine arts building at Los Angeles Trade Technical College and a $7.4-million fitness center and sports field at West Los Angeles College, according to a district website.

In a memo to district staff, LaVista did not make it clear whether the projects were at risk of being abandoned or how much had already been spent on initial planning.

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The Times reported in February that the district had squandered tens of millions of dollars on design and preliminary construction of projects that officials ultimately decided to scrap. At West Los Angeles College, officials spent $39 million on four major buildings, then discovered they didn’t have enough money to complete them; most — and possibly all — of the funds were wasted.

The building program is funded mainly by voter-approved bond money, which by law cannot be spent on operations or maintenance. The district says the program will add 3 million square feet of building space to the colleges, a 60% increase, at the same time that state budget cuts have forced cancellation of 500 courses, LaVista said.

“Our ability to serve growing numbers of students is no longer what was planned or desired,” he wrote in the memo.

During the moratorium, the district will conduct a 30-day study of maintenance and operations costs, LaVista added. In an August audit, state Controller John Chiang urged such a study, noting that the college district had leased out an $86-million satellite campus that it couldn’t afford to run.

Don Gauthier, president of the Faculty Senate at Los Angeles Valley College in the district, welcomed the moratorium, saying that budget cuts were forcing colleges to choose between faculty salaries and building upkeep.

“We’re the people who teach the classes that make the colleges go,” he said.

Daniel Wright, an attorney for the Van de Kamps Coalition, a group that has criticized the building program’s management, said the real reason for the moratorium was cost overruns and legal claims that have thrown it into disarray.

“Every campus has some looming financial issue,” he said.

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The program’s website shows the district is on track to spend $145 million more than its $6.2-billion construction budget, which includes state grants in addition to the bonds. District spokesman Coby King had no immediate explanation for the shortfall.

gale.holland@latimes.com

michael.finnegan@latimes.com


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