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Southwestern College suspends all construction contracts

The Southwestern College Governing Board has suspended all construction contracts in light of the recent felony charges filed against some school officials and a contractor hired by the college, as well as an internal investigation. The board made this decision in a closed session meeting Wednesday night.

Currently under construction at the community college’s main campus is an approximately $50 million project to convert a 9.4-acre vacant lot at the main college campus into several buildings that would house classrooms, a new food court, offices, a new bookstore and a campus-police station.

The project broke ground in October 2010. At the moment the corner lot is still vacant.

BCA Architects was the firm hired by the governing board to design the project in April 2010. Seville Construction Services Inc. was the program manager in charge of Proposition R, a $389 million construction bond measure passed by South County voters in 2008 and the funding mechanism for the corner lot project. Seville was hired in November 2009.

The college’s governing board president, Norma Hernandez, said the action was based on the college’s ongoing internal review and the San Diego County District Attorney’s investigation.

“The board’s action was deemed to be the most appropriate and responsible decision to take at this time,” Hernandez said.

Paul Bunton, president of BCA Architects, released a statement saying, “We acknowledge that Southwestern College has decided to place several contractors on hold as part of a comprehensive review process. … BCA was selected in 2010 after a full architectural review process and is ready to work with the district so that the Southwestern College community will soon see the benefits of the corner lot development.”

No one at Seville Construction Services, including President and CEO Jeffrey Flores, could be reached for comment. The company’s main telephone line has been disconnected.

According to a school spokesperson, both companies were notified that they have been suspended from the job, but not taken off the project permanently.

Echo Pacific Construction Inc. was the construction manager hired to build the project in July 2010. Echo Pacific was taken off the project by the board last October.

The governing board is still deciding on what is next for the corner lot project, including a decision on whether to bid out the project again.

To date, Southwestern has awarded BCA $4.67 million and Seville $4.49 million in contracted work, according to school records.

This contract suspension comes eight days after current and former community college officials and a contractor hired by the community college were charged with criminal felonies by the San Diego County District Attorney for not disclosing gifts to the state.

Henry Amigable worked at Seville Construction Services and Echo Pacific Construction at the time these firms were hired by the college. He was charged with offering and giving bribes to school officials.

Southwestern Community College Director of Student Development and Health Services Arlie Ricasa was also charged with criminal felonies of perjury, filing false instruments and wrongful influence by a public official.

Ricasa was placed on paid administrative leave last Thursday by the college’s Superintendent and President Melinda Nish because of the ongoing internal investigation at the college. Her annual salary is $124,668.

The college’s governing board directed the college’s legal counsel to hire an independent forensic auditor to investigate the concerns and to work with the district attorney. The auditor has been looking into two areas: construction contracts and the Southwestern College Educational Foundation.

According to Hernandez, the internal investigation is expected to be completed in the next two weeks.

Amigable and Ricasa are scheduled to be arraigned Friday afternoon at the downtown San Diego Superior Court.

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