A small college at the edge of the San Joaquin Valley with an ambitious building plan became a cautionary lesson this summer. Last week, beams were still exposed when Taft college officials terminated California Averland Construction, the general contractor building a $12 million student center.
The planned 21,000 square foot building was one of several funded in part by a 2004 voter-approved bond. Thousands of students had been looking forward to a new student center, cafeteria and bookstore this fall, but they will likely have to wait.
Unfortunately, this outcome is no surprise. In June 2016, prior to the award of the project, our organization, the Carpenters/Contractors Cooperation Committee, reached out to Taft College to inform them of our concerns with California Averland’s record.
We urged the Board to conduct a thorough review to determine if this contractor had the qualifications and experience necessary to carry out and complete this project. There was a noticeable difference in the much lower bid amount between California Averland and the next bidders, all of whom, with the exemption of California Averland, had been local contractors active in the local construction market.
We also referred to multiple investigations by the Labor Commissioner into this general contractor and its subcontractors for labor law violations in prior projects, which have since resulted in more than $250,000 in back wages and penalties paid out.
Our three decades as a labor management organization that collaborates with enforcement agencies and our experience monitoring the construction industry for compliance alerted us that there was something of significant concern here.
Situations such as this one are avoidable. There are ways of ensuring our public money is well spent to promote responsible contracting. There are policy solutions that public awarding bodies can enact, including a strong pre-qualification process, vigorous labor compliance enforcement and requirements for hiring of a local skilled and trained workforce.
Let’s make sure this does not repeat itself and we are having to stand around in the hot summer next to another half-built educational facility or some other much needed public facility, such as a library, fire station or police station, because we did not learn our lesson here. Let’s move forward and build smarter.
David Kersh is the executive director of the Carpenters/Contractors Cooperation Committee, a labor-management committee that promotes quality construction jobs in the southwestern United States through vigorous labor compliance efforts.