The delayed construction on the Mercey Springs Elementary School expansion is continuing as workers find pockets of dry spells from the persistent rain hitting the Valley.
The $7 million expansion project, which garnered unwanted attention last year as the center of a suspected corruption scheme within the district, will add two classrooms per grade level from kindergarten through sixth grade, amounting 14 total new classrooms at Mercey Springs.
That will double the student capacity in the school from 444 to 888 students.
Three new buildings, and a building expansion to the kindergarten wing of the school, are being prebuilt by section in Bakersfield and shipped to the school for installation.
But several rough estimates of a project completion date have been repeatedly moved back due to the rain, officials said.
“The biggest challenge is the weather,” said Tom Worthy, director of facilities, operations and transportation for the Los Banos Unified School District.
The rain has delayed the construction in Bakersfield and truck transportation to Los Banos throughout the winter, Worthy said, adding that he couldn’t pin down an estimated date of completion due to the unpredictable weather.
But the break in the storms this week has allowed the district to receive and install several pieces of the building with a large crane.
As of Friday, one of the buildings and parts of the second building were set in place. Worthy said work will likely continue Wednesday.
“The biggest thing for us is to get the buildings here and get them down,” Worthy said, noting that other aspects of construction can continue despite rain.
Mercey Springs Principal Eric Sowersby told the Enterprise on Thursday that it was good to see the school move on with construction after the expansion project was highlighted as the center of a suspected corruption scandal in the school district.
According to a 10-month investigation by the Merced County District Attorney’s Office, former school district trustee Tommy Jones is accused of bribing former trustee Dominic Falasco with $12,000 on behalf of Merced-area contractor Greg Opinski for Falasco’s swing vote to give the construction manager contract for the project to Opinski’s business.
Falasco, who was reportedly working undercover with investigators, was the fourth vote needed to approve a maximum $541,208 contract with Opinski as the construction manager on July 26.
Opinski and Jones were arrested about a month later. Both pleaded not guilty to felony bribery charges Feb. 8. They are due in court Monday.
Going against the district facilities committee’s recommendation to hire Hanford-based Bush Construction for the project at a considerably lower maximum cost, the school board’s vote led to public outrage at school board meetings and displayed the deep divide on the school board.
After the arrests, the school board voted to cancel the contract with Opinski. Later, the board hired Bush Construction, which offered to take the contract at its previous offer of about $280,000.
Vikaas Shanker: 209-826-3831, ext. 6562