Aging school roofs removed from Measure C bond

Jim Walsh, of Concord, is photographed in front of Oak Grove Middle School in Concord, Calif. on Monday, March 6, 2017. Walsh is a member of the Measure C oversight committee. The Measure C bond oversight committee states that projects like the district’s massive solar energy project and Northgate’s Aquatic Park, have taken precedence over basic needs, like the roofing needs of the district schools. Oak Grove Middle School is one of those schools that Walsh states the roof is in need of repair or replacement. (Jose Carlos Fajardo/Bay Area News Group)

CONCORD — Before retiring last month as the Mt. Diablo school district’s sole roofer, David Tomason said he often felt like “a one-legged man in a kicking contest” each rainy season as he raced around the 56-campus district trying to plug leaks.

Tomason estimated that at least 50 percent of the roofs at district schools are in need of replacement and many are near or at the end of their life cycle.

His comments underscore an ongoing debate over school maintenance and money management in one of Contra Costa County’s largest school districts: Despite vowing to repair and replace leaking roofs when it asked voters in 2010 to approve a $348 million construction bond measure, the district has spent only a sliver of the money from Measure C on those needs, and it is now down to the last $38.5 million.

“The district hasn’t been listening,” said Tomason, who spoke out after retiring last month after 14 years with the district. “A lot of that Measure C money was spent on people’s wants rather than needs.”

In the past few years, Tomason said, he was forced to respond to countless roofing leaks, including those in cafeteria serving lines, which could cause potential health hazards, and classrooms with expensive computer equipment that could be damaged by water.

Jim Walsh, vice chairman of the Measure C oversight committee, argues that the decision to skip roofing work shows that the district seems more interested in using Measure C to pay for flashy projects or those that benefit affluent communities — pointing to a massive $78.3 million solar energy project and $7.5 million for Northgate High School’s Aquatic Park — than those that take care of basic needs. He believes that to pay for them, the district plans to pass another bond measure in a few years, although district officials say otherwise.

But district officials have said roofing replacement is not as urgent as critics are calling it, and that they plan to pay for it through the district’s maintenance and operations budget as well as Measure A Mello Roos parcel tax revenue.

“The district has created a 10-year timeline which consists of replacing approximately five roofs per year,” district spokeswoman Ursula Leimbach said last month, adding that many of the roofs vary widely in age and repair needs. The district has spent less than $4,000 from Measure C annually on roofs, she said.

Leimbach also said the district had not had a higher-than-usual number of calls regarding roofs this year, and no significant damage from roof leaks had been reported during the winter storms.

But district documents obtained through a public records request showed that the district’s roofer was asked to respond to nearly twice as many roof leaks, at least 59, from February to March as in the same period last year.

The district’s director of maintenance operations, Rob Greathouse, said those numbers were inaccurate, and that some of those problems were not from roofs but could have been the result of gutters or downspouts with problems.

Tomason, the district roofer, independently estimated that he was called to repair twice as many leaks this year as last year. He said he believes that the district’s decision to use $63 million in Measure C money to install new air conditioning equipment on schools’ already aging roofs led to further weakening, causing even more leaks.

District officials announced earlier this month that they plan “to kickstart” much-needed roofing replacement in the next few months at two of its most urgent sites, Bay Point’s Shore Acres Elementary and Concord’s Oak Grove Middle School, as well as the Concord High and Foothill Middle school gymnasiums. Estimated to cost about $2 million, the work for this first set of roofs will be contracted through a federal government cooperative purchasing program rather than the typical open bidding process, which some have expressed concerns will cost more money, said Mt. Diablo school board member Brian Lawrence.

The district also is still weighing whether it will use Measure C money to pay for the initial $2 million, or tap other sources.

According to a consultant’s report in April 2015, about $4.7 million was needed to repair roofs at nine schools. They included College Park, Concord, Mt. Diablo and Ygnacio Valley high schools, as well as Oak Grove and Riverview middle schools, which were estimated to have one to two years of life left. But Leimbach said a district specialist reviewed the roofs and did not agree with the consultants’ findings, and found very few instances of reported leaks.

If water leaks into the schools, it could threaten the millions of Measure C dollars invested, not just for the schools’ air conditioning but wireless infrastructure and interior paint improvements, Walsh argued.

John Ferrante, the Measure C bond oversight chairman, also said he believes that the district’s roofing needs should not be delayed further. He also questioned the district’s plan to instead use other funding sources, saying it would not be enough to cover the district’s long-term roofing needs.

But he defended how Measure C bond money has been spent so far, pointing to upgraded science buildings; a solar panel project that has saved the district money on  electricity bills; much-needed heating and air conditioning units for all schools; and installation of security systems and a wireless access system, which is required for state academic testing.

“The money was well-spent and properly spent,” he said. “It just was not enough.”

Despite district claims that another bond measure won’t be needed to fund roof repairs, he says another one “will definitely be needed” for roofs and other school improvements.

“There’s more work to be done,” he said.


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