The Morgan Hill Unified School District’s Board of Education made a $1.5 million decision Tuesday on a 6-1 vote to hire Cumming Corporation as the program manager that will oversee the first $55 million in capital improvement projects funded by the $198 million voter-approved Measure G bond.
Cumming, an international project and cost consulting firm with an office in San Jose, had previously partnered with MHUSD to complete a district-wide facilities assessment report in February. Before making the decision, the Board studied two other options – one estimated at $540,000 and another at $4 million.
“I felt that we would get a team of experts with Cumming as opposed to an individual if we hired our own person,” explained Board President Don Moody. “They will be working for us, so they certainly will be representing the interests of Morgan Hill Unified School District.”
Trustee Amy Porter-Jensen cast the lone opposing vote.
“I thought that a less expensive and equally efficient alternative like hiring a Director of Construction and Modernization, and having them on site to be more hands-on, maybe was a better route to take,” said Porter-Jensen, who was hoping for more time before putting the action to vote. “But I do respect the views of my fellow board trustees who may have already gone through this process (in previous bond issuances.)”
The six Board members that voted in favor of a new three-year contract with Cumming, alternately, agreed that MHUSD’s preexisting relationship with the corporation, not to mention Cumming’s expertise in the field and diversity of services was the best possible option to ensure MHUSD’s standards are met throughout the bond process.
The first Measure G-funded project is the $7 million modernization of the former Burnett Elementary School campus on Tilton Avenue in northwest Morgan Hill, which will be christened as the new home of Central Continuation High School for the start of the 2013-14 school year.
Other potential projects slated for this summer that have not been officially approved by the Board include the construction of a multi-purpose room at the Charter School of Morgan Hill, fencing at Britton Middle School and various roofing projects at other facilities.
At Tuesday’s meeting, Vice President Anthony Sanchez of Project Management for Cumming touted his company’s unparalleled expertise, ability to manage multiple projects, diversity of services offered, flexibility on project oversight, community outreach and use of the latest software.
“We understand school construction costs better than any other firm and will ensure the district gets the most value for your bond money,” said Sanchez, who noted Cumming is the No. 1 largest independent cost manager and estimator in the state and second nationwide.
“We understand budgets. We understand what the value of the dollar is and what it means to your students and what it means to you as a board,” continued Sanchez, who told trustees that Cumming has the “ability to establish consistency in planning and development for each project.”
At the previous April 30 meeting, the Board hesitated to take action on hiring Cumming and instead wanted to hear all of the management options on the table. Moody said they were just doing their “due diligence” in reviewing every possible avenue.
“The Board has a responsibility to make sure that we spend the taxpayers’ money properly,” he said. “This was just part of scrutinizing things and checking out different options more thoroughly ... I’m really glad we reserved the vote until last night.”
Another key factor in hiring Cumming was the possibility of limiting the associated expenses of hiring a construction manager, Moody added. The district detailed that a construction manager will cost $627,500 per project. For eight projects, that expense climbs to more than $5 million.
Alternately, Sanchez insisted that with smaller district projects under $4 million in total cost, Cumming will be able to act as construction manager, too.
“It seems to me, that if we were careful, we would not necessarily need to spend as much on construction management,” said Moody prior to the vote. “We could, should we go with Cumming, take advantage of them more. That would be the way I would go.”
Assistant Superintendent Kirsten Perez of Business Services for MHUSD reviewed the three options that were discussed at the prior meeting. The first option was hiring a program management firm, specifically Cumming (a $1.5 million cost). The second option was employing a Director of Construction and Modernization, an in-house position used in prior bond issuances (a $540,000 expense over three years). The third option was a hybrid model of hiring both positions from the first two options (which could have cost upwards of $4 million).
“As we dug deeper into this issue of having a hybrid, we found that not only was it the most costly option, but it would also be hard to find a Director of Construction and Modernization that would work part-time,” said Perez, noting that the district might not be able to attract the highest quality candidate at only half salary. Therefore, Perez said “the hybrid option, I think, would not be a viable option for the district.”
However, before voting to hire Cumming as program manager, trustee Rick Badillo still wanted the Board to consider employing a Director of Construction and Modernization as well, possibly at a later date.
“I don’t think it’s a bad idea to hire a Director of Construction and Modernization to use as a liaison (between Cumming and the district),” said Badillo, before voting in favor of hiring Cumming.
Steve Betando, Assistant Superintendent of Human Resources who in July will be taking over as interim superintendent for departing Superintendent Wes Smith, interjected and offered to evaluate his existing business staff to gauge their “internal capacity needs.” Betando said he will determine if any additional staff needs to be hired on a part-time basis to help with project oversight, or if they can possibly free up time for Anessa Espinosa, MHUSD’s Director of Facilities, to be that “liaison” mentioned by Badillo.
The next Board of Education meeting is scheduled for May 28.
Scott Forstner is a general assignment reporter who covers education and other community issues for the Morgan Hill Times. Reach him at (408) 847-7158 or via email at email@example.com