The Fresno Unified School Board continues to grapple with whether to use project labor agreements for upcoming school construction projects such as the new southeast elementary school.
Indecision about the agreements, which are supported by labor unions but opposed by general contractors and business owners, has pushed the school’s opening back a year.
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The $44 million Juan Felipe Herrera Elementary now is scheduled to open in August 2022, chief of staff David Chavez told board members Wednesday afternoon at a PLA workshop.
Chief operations officer Karin Temple had cautioned the board in September that if it delayed advertising for bids on the project to consider a project labor agreement, the opening likely would be delayed a year.
Learning The Pros and Cons of PLAs
Attorney Phil Henderson of Orbach Huff Suarez + Henderson, which negotiates project labor agreements, was joined by Chuck Riojas of the Fresno, Madera, Tulare, Kings Building and Construction Trades Council and Nicole Goehring of Associated Builders and Contractors in a discussion of the pros and cons of PLAs.
The city of Fresno has a PLA for its airport expansion.
One big advantage to having a PLA: Fresno Unified’s upcoming projects could jump closer to the head of the line to get state school construction money under the language in Proposition 13, the $15 billion proposition on the March ballot, chief financial officer Ruthie Quinto told the board.
Priority Goes to PLA ProjectsGetting the biggest bang for the district’s buck is key, trustee Carol Mills said. “Part of our obligation is to maximize the funding that’s available for our contracts,” she said. “We didn’t create the state provisions, but we are going to have to follow them. If we’re going to be submitting for matching money for our projects, we need to position ourselves as best as we can to get that matching money.
“Because every school district in the state is going to be looking for that matching money, and there’s going to be more requests than there is money available.”
Mills and other trustees expressed their support for continuing to consider a PLA for Herrera School, and possibly other future projects.
Support Waning for Bond Measure
But Goehring noted that support for Proposition 13, based on the latest Public Policy Institute of California survey, appears to be slipping and is polling at less than 50% approval.
That sparked an angry comment at the close of the workshop from board president Claudia Casares. Compared to the vast amounts of construction bids that the district has awarded to the private sector, Herrera School is a “tiny little (PLA) project that we may or may not do, (that) deserves our support.
“I would like to think that the history of all the projects that we’ve had in this district, and the partnerships we’ve had with our private entities in this district, will be more than enough to have their support in our future bond.”
The trustees voted later Wednesday for a resolution to put a $325 million bond for school facilities on the March 3 ballot.