The link between donors and contracts at San Dieguito

Marsha Sutton
Marsha Sutton

By Marsha Sutton

The award to architectural firm Lionakis on Feb. 7 of two San Dieguito Union High School District contracts worth a combined $2.8 million makes Lionakis’ $25,000 donation to San Dieguito’s bond campaign seem, on the surface, suspect.

In a meeting with SDUHSD superintendent Ken Noah, deputy superintendent Rick Schmitt and associate superintendent for business services Eric Dill last week, I asked if this was “pay-to-play.”

The answer, in essence, was, “They were already playing.”

Noah explained, saying Lionakis and other major donors were “pre-qualified” and selected to do the work well before the $449 million bond measure was narrowly approved by voters in November 2012.

The public can expect to see contracts awarded to most other big donors to SDUHSD’s Proposition AA bond campaign, for the same reason.

For architectural services, Dill said the district advertised in Feb. of 2011 through a general, open Request for Proposals process.

From the RFP, the district received responses from 25 firms, interviewed eight over six months, and selected four, he said.

Without knowing in advance which projects or schools they would be working on, the applicants were asked by the district to give their professional qualifications.

They were evaluated based on past projects, expertise with educational facilities, reputation in the industry, and fee structure.

The job of the four selected firms was to work with the district in the pre-construction phase for projects at each of the school sites identified by the district’s facilities task force. This occurred over a year before the bond was finalized and approved by the school board.

“We assigned them to work on specific schools to develop the preliminary master plans for each of those schools,” Dill said.

This work, finished before the bond came before voters, was fully paid with Mello-Roos and other capital building funds in the district’s coffers, said Dill, adding that the district will not be reimbursed for these expenses with bond money.

“Whether we had a bond or not, we knew we needed to do this work because we had … a vision,” he said. “We needed to develop master plans for each of our school sites.”

The four architectural firms the district selected are Lionakis, MVE Institutional, Roesling Nakamura Terada, and Westberg & White.

“All four did a great job so we decided that we would continue working with them,” Dill said.

Westberg & White, MVE Institutional and Lionakis each contributed $25,000 to the Prop. AA campaign, while Ralph Roesling of Roesling Nakamura Terada contributed $1,000.

Dill said the district is using the master planning process as a way to do a long-term interview, “to determine how they work with us, how their approach is to the work that they do, their creativity and problem-solving, and coming up with cost-effective solutions.”

Construction firms and finance team pre-selected

After the bond passed, each design firm was assigned to particular projects and asked to provide proposals.

Lionakis is the first to be awarded contracts – $1.8 million for work on the new middle school in Pacific Highlands Ranch and about $1 million for work at Canyon Crest Academy.

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