The Los Angeles Times took a close look at community college building projects and found that "poor planning, frivolous spending and shoddy work dog the sprawling system's bond-financed construction program."
In a lengthy report, the newspaper detailed several examples of waste:
"At East Los Angeles College, construction of a grand entry plaza with a clock tower degenerated into a comedy of errors. Heating and cooling units were installed upside down, inspectors found. Concrete steps were uneven. Cracked and wet lumber had to be torn out. A ramp for the disabled was too steep for wheelchairs, and the landmark clock tower listed to one side. Fixing the problems helped drive construction costs from $28 million to $43 million."
"A new health and science center at Valley College was marred by defective plumbing, cracked floors, leaky windows and loosely attached ceiling panels that threatened to crash down in an earthquake. The district paid a contractor $48 million to build the complex, but had to hire others to correct the problems and finish the project – for an additional $3.5 million."
"At West Los Angeles College, officials spent $39 million to design and begin construction of four major buildings, only to discover that they didn't have the money to complete them. Just as crews were starting work last summer, the projects, including a $92-million athletics center, were abandoned."
"At Valley College, workers renovated a theater complex, installing new seats, lighting and sound equipment in time for a 2009 student production of 'Alice in Wonderland.' But even before the $3.4-million job was done, officials decided to build a new theater complex. The renovated one is slated for demolition."
"At L.A. City College, architects were hired to design a five-story fitness center with a glassed-in dance studio on the top floor. Before construction began, the college president decided to move the fitness center to the other side of campus. There, it would need to be short and wide, not tall and narrow. The $1.8-million design was suddenly worthless. The district paid architects $1.9 million to draft a new one."
The Times' excellent investigative story includes many other examples of questionable spending and practices, including school officials who spent more than $350,000 in construction bond funds on promotional videos that included aerial footage from chartered helicopters; a district that spent $175 an hour for photos of trustees at award banquets; and several instances of school employees helping relatives get jobs within the system. (Source: Los Angeles Times, February 27.)