Labor agreement for $78 million Santa Rosa Junior College project irks contractors
Santa Rosa Junior College’s decision to apply a union-backed construction management plan to a $78 million science and technology building has revived complaints from contractors’ groups that say the pacts curb competition and raise costs for taxpayers.
College officials and labor leaders rebutted the criticism, saying the pact passed an intentional test in the ongoing renovation of venerable Burbank Auditorium, despite cost increases and delayed completion of the $31.8 million project.
SRJC President Frank Chong said he was thoroughly satisfied with the use of a project labor agreement for work on the 85-year-old auditorium, now scheduled for completion in November, six months behind schedule.
“It’s been a very smooth project,” Chong said, adding that faculty, students and the community will relish the modernized theater, which hosts student productions and a summer repertory company.
Chong said he had “absolutely no reservations” in recommending the Board of Trustees extend the agreement to cover the Lindley Center for STEM Education, a three-story, 109,000-square-foot building expected to start construction early next year.
Trustees approved the recommendation Oct. 8 on a split vote, with Dorothy Battenfield, Jordan Burns, Don Edgar, Maggie Fishman and Mariana Martinez in favor. Longtime trustees Jeff Kunde and Terry Lindley, for whom the building will be named, were opposed.
Edgar, who made the motion for approval, had voted against the agreement twice in 2017.
In an interview last week, Edgar said he was “more than convinced” of the agreement’s value by a staff report at the board meeting.
The report noted that neither the construction delay on the auditorium nor the nine change orders that added $3.5 million to the project were due to the agreement. Change orders are ultimately expected to add $3.8 million to the original $28 million contract approved by the board in November 2017.
Jordan Burns, the board president who considers himself a “stickler on change orders,” had no problem with the add-ons and said they had nothing to do with the agreement.
“Those would have come up regardless,” he said.
One of the major change orders amounted to about $1 million for a new roof, a need that was unknown until work on the aging building revealed the roof had leaked during last winter’s heavy rains, Burns said.
The $40 million Bertolini Student Center, built in 2010 without a labor agreement, had 140 change orders, he said.
At the Oct. 8 meeting, six trustees, including Kunde and Lindley, unanimously approved a $356,000 change order.
Critics of the agreement who represent nonunion building contractors faulted the auditorium project for running over budget and behind schedule and for still not being complete. Their objections renewed a clash between unions and construction management over project labor agreements dating back to the 1990s.
Keith Woods, head of 1,250-member North Coast Builders Exchange, said the group is “100%” opposed to the agreements that are “flat out wrong” for public construction projects.
“They discriminate against 85% of the construction industry that is nonunion,” he said, also complaining that college officials had said the auditorium project, still in the works, would be used as a test of the agreement.
“Here they go violating what we felt was a commitment they had made,” he said.