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Projects at Southwestern College resume after school board scandal

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A renderings shows the athletic Field House planned for Southwestern College in Chula Vista.

After scandals halted construction work at Southwestern College, one of the first projects following the reassessment of Proposition R has broken ground.

On Aug. 1, Southwestern Community College District officials and Balfour Beatty Construction officially started work on the new athletic Field House, part of the $389 million Proposition R general obligation fund.

The facility will be built on the north end of the college’s DeVore Stadium end zone and overlook the field.

"The Field House is a centerpiece of our first phase of construction under Proposition R,” said Norma L. Hernandez, governing board president. “The facility is designed to have a very open feel, with lots of windows that look out onto our beautiful campus."

The 40,000-square-foot structure will contain team locker and training facilities at the playing field-level; strength and conditioning facilities on the second floor; four new classrooms and a 140-seat mixed media auditorium on the third level; and health and exercise sciences faculty offices and tutorial spaces for student athletes on the fourth floor.

The Field House is designed by Gensler Architects and has architectural characteristics that reflect the Mayan theme of the existing campus.

This work is part of the first phase of construction from Proposition R.

Also part of this first phase is the construction of a 6,000-square-foot central plant, which will provide high-efficiency cooling and heating for new and existing campus buildings. In addition, new synthetic turf is being installed at both DeVore Stadium and the football practice fields. The new turf will provide low water-use and low-maintenance playing surfaces. This work is also being led by Balfour Beatty.

Phase 1 of Proposition R totals $90 million.

Proposition R was approved by South County voters in 2008. The money from the bond measure is to be used for construction and renovations of existing facilities — including the purchasing of new equipment and furnishings, acquisition or lease of property and construction management services by district personnel.

On March 14, the district’s governing board unanimously voted to re-evaluate all Proposition R projects to determine the best use of bond funds and reassess its priorities after receiving the final draft of an independent "focused review" and associated "internal analysis."

The documents evaluate events that took place between the 2008-2009 and 2009-2010 fiscal years that led to the severance of several contracts.

"We need to take a new look at Proposition R,” said Hernandez, back in March. “This is part of our commitment to ensure the public’s money is used most appropriately and effectively to achieve our goals of educational excellence, institutional integrity and transparency."

In January, the board cut ties with BCA Architects — the firm that designed the Corner Lot Project, and Seville Construction Services — the Proposition R project manager. Echo Pacific Construction Inc. was removed from the Corner Lot Project as the construction manager by the board last October.

Henry Amigable worked at Seville Construction Services and Echo Pacific Construction at the time the firms were hired by the college. He has been charged with offering and giving bribes to school officials at Sweetwater Union High School District.

On March 21, the San Diego District Attorney’s office dismissed felony bribery charges against Amigable in a plea deal. As a result, he was found guilty of a misdemeanor education code, with the intent to influence a school board member.

On June 13, the governing board voted to place a project labor agreement on Proposition R projects by a vote of 4-1. The board will now negotiate with labor unions on a contract — titled the Community Benefits Agreement — that would state hiring requirements, wages and benefits on Proposition R projects that either have not yet been bid out or have to be rebid.

Among the future developments for Proposition R are the Corner Lot Project, which lost its architect, construction manager and the Proposition R program manager. The $50 million project calls for a 9.4-acre vacant lot at the main college campus to be transformed into several buildings that would house classrooms, a new food court, offices, a new bookstore and a campus police station.

The labor agreement will not affect the Field House project or other ongoing work, including the Higher Education Center at National City and the Elmhurst and Gotham Street entryways to the Chula Vista campus.

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