CUSD cancels contract with law firm, plans new building projects

CUSD cancels contract with law firm, plans new building projects
“How did this get so far and missed?” Trustee Lisa Rodman, right, asked staff members, addressing the fact that safety and accessibility issues with the Cultural Arts Center were not addressed during the facility’s most recent upgrade. Photo by Rachel Stine

CARLSBAD — The Carlsbad Unified School District (CUSD) Board of Trustees voted to cancel its contract with the law firm that hired a former trustee and prioritized Prop P infrastructure projects at its Sept. 11 meeting.

[amt_override]The Board was presented with the opportunity to continue, scale back, or cancel its $100,000 annual contract with the law firm Fagen, Friedman, and Fulfrost LLP after the firm hired former trustee Kelli Moors. Fearing conflict of interest accusations, the Board had decided to re-vote on the firm’s contract after realizing that Moors had voted to support the contract 12 days before announcing her resignation to accept her position with the firm.

The Board had contracted with the law firm to handle special education and personnel matters since 2006.

The four current trustees voted unanimously to cancel the contract without discussion at the meeting.

Board President Elisa Williamson had previously expressed that she intended to recommend that the Board reduce the scale of the firm’s contract with the district to only current cases that would be too costly to transfer to other firms.

After the meeting she explained that she had changed her mind to recommend canceling the contract with the firm after learning from Superintendent Suzette Lovely that the firm was not working on any cases that would be difficult to transfer to another firm, and that numerous alternative firms had been identified.

After voting on the law firm contract, the Board considered how to prioritize its remaining $33 million in Prop P money for building projects throughout the district’s campuses.

Projects up for consideration were split between infrastructure improvements at various CUSD campuses and a new aquatics center or performing arts center at the new Sage Creek High School.

District staff primarily presented information regarding the cost of building and operating an aquatics center or performing arts center, and some details about potential revenues for each facility.

They ultimately concluded that the performing arts center would be the least costly to operate and most likely to be used by more students.

But they also mentioned that the funds could be used to update several sites throughout the district that do not meet current building standards set by the Division of the State Architect, including safety and handicap accessibility criteria.

William Morrison, a senior project manager for Gafcon, explained that while all buildings in CUSD meet the standards that existed at the time of their construction, any buildings that are remodeled would have to be improved to meet current codes. So while all buildings are compliant with state regulations, any infrastructure improvements would be accompanied by most likely costly adjustments to meet the newest standards.

He cited the district’s Cultural Arts Center, which was built in 1980, as one of the primary sites in need of safety and accessibility upgrades.

“Basically when you walk into the entrance, that’s about as ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) compliant as it is,” he said.

He explained that there is almost no way for a person in a wheelchair to get into the orchestra pit, the counter height of the ticket booth needs to be adjusted, and the fire suppression system is in need of some upgrades.

Board members expressed shock that these upgrades were not included in the facility’s most recent interior remodel.

“How did this get so far and missed?” Trustee Lisa Rodman asked. “I’m surprised we’re here.”

Morrison said that those in charge of the last project maintained that compliance issues did not fall within the spectrum of what they were upgrading.

The trustees voted to send out a request for applications from architects to address the building safety and access issues at current facilities and asked for staff to come forward with more information about the revenue earning potential of a new aquatics center and performing arts center at Sage Creek High School.



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