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Rising construction costs could force tough decisions on LCUSD bond projects

La Cañada Unified Governing Board members were updated Tuesday on several building projects planned for this summer and in the years ahead, thanks to the $149-million Measure LCF school bond.
(File photo)

The La Cañada school board was updated Tuesday on several building projects planned for this summer and in years ahead, thanks to the $149-million bond passed by district voters in 2017.

But escalating construction costs and unforeseen contingencies are swelling budgets, eating into a reserve of unallocated funds set aside to cover them and threatening just how far down La Cañada Unified is going to be able to get on its wish list.

With assistance from architectural consultant Harold Pierre, Associate Supt. Mark Evans provided an overview of project timelines and shared how individual cost estimates have ballooned since they were identified in the district’s facilities master plan and budgeted last year.

This summer, the district will install perimeter fencing at its three elementary schools, with the total cost estimated at $740,640 and completion set for early August. The school board asked architects to consider making grounds used jointly by LCUSD and the city accessible to the community after school.


“I think you need to have [a fence] opened, or the ability to leave it unlocked, for people coming in,” said Joe Radabaugh, board vice president.

An $845,000 playground renovation at La Cañada Elementary should be finished by July 31, at about the same time a new lunch shelter at Paradise Canyon Elementary is to be completed at the cost of about $618,300.

At the high school, installation of a $1.12-million remote-access locking system is about 27% finished and is expected to be done in May, while a $1.52-million plan to renovate the school cafeteria, serving and snack bar areas could be ready for next school year, with completion scheduled for Sept. 30.

Evans said renovating the LCHS band room and improving drainage on the north parking lot, estimated at $1,042,400, should also be done by Aug. 1, as will connecting the Palm Crest Elementary School campus to a public sewer line, a $215,000 project.


Presenters also adjusted estimates for future projects, including a high school pool and modernization of Palm Crest Elementary.

The total cost of installing a 40-meter pool south of the LCHS South Gym, with the required pool facilities, new basketball courts at the current pool location and adding 50 parking spaces to the campus’ eastern lot is now at $11.7 million — well above the preliminary budget of $6.65 million for a standalone pool.

Costs associated with constructing a two-story building and renovating classrooms at Palm Crest have also risen, from $20.6 million to nearly $27.6 million. Evans said overrides have eaten into $22.5 million of unallocated bond funds set aside for escalation and contingencies, leaving only about $7.5 million remaining.

“We’re eating into the safe zone,” Evans told parent David Haxton, who shared many concerns about plans and funding and advocated for a 50-meter pool. “What else is going to get eaten away?”

The board expressed concerns that cost increases for projects at the front of the line could push those at the back off the list completely. Radabaugh considered whether a smaller, 33-meter pool might be more prudent.

Board members Ellen Multari and Kaitzer Puglia said while many community members argued for the utility of a 50-meter pool, that seemed out of the question.

“I don’t think we have the capacity to do it, and I don’t think we have the dollars to do it,” Multari said.

The board asked Evans and Pierre to bring back a cost-benefit analysis of 33- and 40-meter pool scenarios, along with clearer costs and examples of how campus life at Palm Crest would improve after the modernization, for a possible vote at their March 12 meeting.


LCUSD, parents enlist Barger’s help on ‘Big Dig’ issues

In the first of regular updates on local efforts to monitor the county’s Devil’s Gate Dam Sediment Removal project — a four-year hauling program scheduled to begin in April — Supt. Wendy Sinnette shared several developments Tuesday.

District officials recently met with IQ Air, an air purifier maker that consults with school districts facing environmental challenges, to determine what kind of filtration systems might protect students from diesel truck emissions during the county’s April-through-October hauling schedule.

Sinnette said she and a group of concerned parents, local and state officials met Friday at the office of Los Angeles County Supervisor Kathryn Barger to share their concerns.

The group presented a list of items for the supervisor’s consideration.

“[She’s] very accommodating and reviewed all 12 requests,” Sinnette said. “We’re waiting to hear from her office a proposal with more details on each of the items.”

District seeks grant to assist low-performing students

After approval from the board Tuesday, LCUSD will apply to the state for a Low-Preforming Students Block Grant that could bring in $92,873 to assist students who earned low marks in math and English Language Arts assessments, yet do not receive special education services or other dedicated supports.

Anais Wenn, assistant superintendent of curriculum and instruction, explained the grant could aid some 47 elementary students by increasing and improving evidence-based services and helping fund teacher training and planning time. Board member Dan Jeffries supported the move.

“One of the things we should specifically look at are the kids who need a leg up,” he said. “And this is a great idea, whether the state funds it or not, to help those kids.”


Spotlight on kindness at LCE

A La Cañada Elementary School club, LCE Lions Really Care, took a turn in the spotlight Tuesday as teacher Mandy Redfern and students shared the amazing things kids and adults can accomplish for others when they work together.

Club members participate in monthly philanthropic efforts, including packing lunches and collecting clothing for the homeless, stitching plush hearts for Hurricane Harvey victims and crafting and delivering Valentine’s Day cards to local memory care facility patients.

“If there’s anything you can be in the world, the most important thing to be is kind and to share that with everyone,” Redfern said.

For events, check the school’s PTA calendar online at

Also Tuesday, board members:

- passed a resolution seeking state compensation for average daily attendance (ADA) loss associated with the one-day closure of schools on Oct. 16 in response to a community-wide power outage. Associate Supt. Mark Evans said although power was restored, schools had to remain closed after an announcement had been made. The estimated loss runs up to nearly $45 per student.

- approved the resignations of former La Cañada High School Principal Ian McFeat (effective June 30, 2019) and wife Christine Castillo, former principal of La Cañada Elementary School (effective Dec. 11, 2018). At a Jan. 15 closed session meeting, board members unanimously ratified two settlement agreements reached between LCUSD and the former administrators.

Twitter: @SaraCardine