COS fine arts building project on hold after additional costs identified

Mike Meyer

Renovation of the theatre at College of the Siskiyous and the rebuilding of the school’s fine arts classrooms and studios have been paused at the request of construction managers. The project is in early design stages.

The 53-year-old theatre structure’s outside stucco and inside plaster is being evaluated since building materials used in 1968 are considered hazardous now. In addition, some of the building’s features are below today’s fire safety standards, among other criteria.

College of the Siskiyous

The step-back reassessment will help determine the full scope of the theatre renovation and additional cost, according to Sean Blaylock, managing owner of Alma Strategies. Alma and Trover Construction Project Management were hired by the college as construction managers in November 2020.

Blaylock reported to the COS Board of Trustees last Tuesday night that newly discovered costs could amount to $6 million not currently budgeted by the state.

In July the college announced that it had received word from the state of a $27 million award –100% of the cost – to renovate the Kenneth W. Ford Theatre building and tear down and rebuild McCloud Hall, which houses fine arts studios and classrooms. The new fine arts construction is to be built into the renovated theatre building, and will be called the Performing and Creative Arts Complex.

Memorial trees planted at College of the Siskiyous in Weed are from seeds that survived the Oklahoma City Bombing

“Not all costs are included in the state’s funding,” Blaylock cautioned the board during the Zoom meeting. “A 100 percent state-funded project is not really a 100% state-funded project. Existing conditions we uncovered need to be fully evaluated. The theatre building is old and has to be upgraded to meet state standards, but we need more time to define the (actual) project and establish (true) fiscal parameters.”

The project’s working drawings were scheduled to be submitted to the state in mid-March, but that milestone is delayed.

“As the project stands now, those (new) costs would not be reimbursed by the state," said Darlene Melby, vice-president of Administrative Services, on Thursday.

"It's best to pull back now and make sure we have all the bases covered when we go back to the state for additional money," Melby said in an interview.

Blaylock was straight-forward in his comments to the board, saying now is the right time to find hidden costs. “Finding problems and making changes when it's only on paper is less expensive than making adjustments later.

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More:College of the Siskiyous president Stephen Schoonmaker resigns

"Our recommendation and experience is that $27 million is deficient for the actual cost. It will be more, and we do not know how much more yet.”

The management companies anticipate finishing their evaluations in three months, though the delay will move the project back a year, Blaylock reported.

This is because the state is aware that the COS district is not ready to take bids on construction. “The state wants to move the funds from the 2021-2022 budget to the 2022-2023 state budget," Blaylock said.

After five weeks on the job, Blaylock said Alma and Trover hadn't "seen a complete cost estimate yet, nor a cash flow model that includes how much money the district contributes.” The state needs this kind of information to "consider augmentation of the funding," he said.

He also told the board that while the state is open to considering an increase of the $27 million, it would do so "only once".

Melby said she appreciates the work Alma and Trover are doing. 

"They've been very open and very thorough. They come highly recommended, having been in California Community College system for years,” she said.

Last fall, the college established a theatre committee to work with construction managers. The committee consists of stakeholders and end users of the theatre project, as well as COS trustees. The committee will evaluate the design and take part in decision making, Melby said.

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In other news

Following a closed session, Board of Trustees president Barry Ohlund announced that Dr. Char Perlas had been named sole acting president of the college. The board previously had named Perlas and Melby as interim co-presidents during a special meeting on February 10.

Dr. Char Perlas, left, and Darlene Melby will serve as co-presidents for College of the Siskiyous until June 30 after the resignation of Dr. Stephen Schoonmaker on Feb. 10, 2021.

This came after announcing the resignation of Dr. Stephen Schoonmaker from the position.

Perlas and Melby were originally appointed to share the role until June 30, when Perlas would assume the full interim duties for one year. But between the two board meetings, the college learned from the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges that it requires just one person as president.

Asked about the sudden turn of fortune, VP Melby laughed, "My five minutes of fame are up."