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Under (better) construction

Years after a multibillion-dollar construction program left the Los Angeles Community College District with problem-plagued new buildings, the district’s board of trustees is taking measures to oust its contracting firm and a construction management company. Finally.

These are obvious and badly needed moves to reform a building program responsible for erecting, among other travesties, a health and science center at Valley College where floor and ceiling tiles were askew, spigots weren’t lined up with sinks and the air temperature control was nonexistent.

District leaders have been slow to acknowledge the magnitude of the construction disasters — outlined in a six-part series in The Times earlier this year — and have been defensive about their share of responsibility for poor oversight. Only a couple of months ago, they questioned state Controller John Chiang’s critical audit of the program, which accused officials of “shoddy fiscal management.”

But there are signs that the district chancellor, Daniel LaVista, and the current board — which includes two newly elected members — are serious about making changes. District officials have initiated proceedings to bar FTR International, the contractor responsible for the health and science center, from doing any further work on district campuses for up to five years. They also announced that they have taken steps to fire a construction management company, Gateway Science and Engineering, for poor administration. Last month, the board announced that City Controller Wendy Greuel would investigate allegations that the district’s inspector general, who functions as an internal watchdog, might have been improperly hired; initially, LaVista had rejected Chiang’s request for just such an outside investigation. The Los Angeles district attorney has also recently opened a preliminary inquiry into allegations of irregularities regarding the selection of the watchdog.

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Community college officials’ past defensiveness about the construction mistakes served no one well. A forceful move to terminate the contracts of the two firms and a commitment to investigate the college system’s missteps may be overdue measures, but they are nonetheless welcome.


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