View: Time to Speak Up on Waste, Bad Planning for High School Sports Fields

Construction of the athletic fields for El Cerrito High is overdue, over budget and marred by bad planning, including elimination of the basketball courts, argues Geline Covey.

The fields project at El Cerrito High School is overdue and over budget.  The fields were scheduled to be available to students before school opened in August, then postponed to September, then November, then December; at this point the engineers are unwilling to give any date for completion. 

Questions about delays and cost overruns receive muddled answers—18 days of rain (causing at least four months of delay!), special dirt, tennis bounce wall, paths and lights, access to the stadium for students during construction.  The plan was approved by WCCUSD (West Contra Costa Unified School District) in spring 2010, but no work was done until 2011.  The penalty for lateness was given as $1,000/day, minuscule in a $12,000,000-$13,000,000 budget (at last count before the new delays were announced). 

Outdoor basketball courts, which were heavily used by students and community members at the old site, have been repeatedly promised but are now eliminated from the plans for the new fields.  Coaches (for competitive teams), soccer moms, tennis players, and neighbors seem indifferent to constituencies outside their own.  Young people are not generally represented at meetings, and certainly not kids who would use the courts for recreation.  We say “exercise” and “just say no,” but WCCUSD won’t provide this very inexpensive minimal resource.  How about the kid who wants to shoot a few hoops?  Or play in a pickup game?  Sorry, designers, contractors, administration, and Board can’t put up a few baskets and draw a few lines on level ground for the community. 

Work on the new football stadium?  Expect “special dirt” there too, rain will no doubt occur, and changes will routinely be needed.  The WCCUSD design and construction team will be surprised by everything!  Geotech has already given wrong projections for the high-school building site, for the temporary campus, and for the baseball/soccer fields.  Around the world, there are athletic fields even in places where it often rains.  But here, our professionals are full of excuses and delays.

Despite the expensive new Taj El Cerrito, the high school received the lowest academic ranking.  It is now obvious that paying architects does not yield better students.  The initial cost of construction for ECHS is going to exceed a quarter of a BILLION dollars, not counting years of interest on the bonds.  Our heirs will still be paying, while property values in El Cerrito reflect despair about our public schools along with high taxes for those schools.  WCCUSD administration chose to request funds for bonds (construction) and practically guaranteed denial of the subsequent parcel tax vote (money for operations). 

There is no realistic completion date for El Cerrito High School; construction will eventually cover at least a decade of disruption for students, staff, and citizens.  In any private setting, we would not be hearing, “Don’t worry, there will always be money,” and a project of this size would be completed at least close to on time and on budget, or penalties would be paid.  The center fields are going to take DOUBLE the time projected.  ECHS is the project with which I am most familiar, but with its enormous budget and presumed oversight, it is probably an indicator of how the BILLION-dollar (base cost, estimated at least three BILLION before finally paid) construction program is going.  Citizens should be more concerned—and let the Board members know of their concern. 

Geline Covey is a long-time El Cerrito resident and tax-payer.  She has volunteered at Harding, Portola, and El Cerrito High Schools.  She has attended many site, fields, facilities, and school board meetings, and continues to take an active interest in ongoing construction at ECHS.

Don Gosney November 11, 2011 at 05:39 AM
Did someone think that the WCCUSD is like the CIA as far as keeping secrets. Word gets out all the time. All you have to do is talk to people and pay attention. The kids themselves often know more than you might imagine and they're not known for keeping their mouths shut. Of course, if you want to suggest further that I've been told secrets by someone in the DIstrict that couldn't keep their mouth shut or if you want to suggest that maybe I broke in and stole confidential information, then keep writing. It's just as believable as some of the other statements posted here.
Valerie Snider November 11, 2011 at 07:14 AM
So, Mr. Gosney, what you're saying is based on rumors? The rumor that I heard is that two students were fooling around and got caught. It was reported as an assault and then the media descended and created a story out of nothing.
Don Gosney November 11, 2011 at 08:35 AM
If you're asking me whether I was there as an eyewitness, then I'll have to fess up that I have no first hand knowledge. I wasn't there but I'm betting you weren't either. Since neither of us was there to witness it, then perhaps it never even happened. In any case, this has gone so far off tangent that it's not worth my time and effort to continue with any back and forth. Comments like these are non-productive. No one is reading them and no one's opinions are being changed. I have things on my plate right now where I can make a positive difference in people's lives so I'm going to walk away from this and let you and your associates crown yourselves the kings and queens of this blog.
Don Gosney November 11, 2011 at 08:49 AM
I'm trying to recall, Ms. Snider, which of the CBOC meetings I've seen you at these past four years that I've been on the CBOC. From what do you base your claim that the committee is a joke? Since you haven't actually attended any meetings in recent years, are you basing your claims on unsubstantiated rumors? Since you've made the allegation that Mr. Ramsey dominates the meetings and controls the members, perhaps you'd care to tell us exactly who those stooges and puppets are. I'm testing my memory here but I think that Mr. Ramsey has attended perhaps 8-10 of the last 40 meetings. Is his power and influence so strong that he can control us even when he's not at our meetings? That's a scary thought. Most of the CBOC members know Mr. Ramsey only peripherally. Are those the ones he's dominating or are you referring to people like myself who has known Mr. Ramsey for a great many years? Of course, I'm betting that I've threatened him with bodily harm, as only a friend can, considerably more times than you have as someone who openly despises him. Am I one of those that he's dominating or just controlling?
Valerie Snider November 11, 2011 at 08:21 PM
Well, Mr. Gosney, to quote you, "Word gets out all the time. All you have to do is talk to people and pay attention."


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