R. Browning High School is nearing the end of construction and set to open Aug. 30 along with all other LBUSD schools. Photo by Brittany Murray, Press Telegram/SCNG

By Andrew Edwards, Press-Telegram

R. Browning High School is nearing the end of construction and set to open Aug. 30 along with all other LBUSD schools.

R. Browning High School is nearing the end of construction and set to open Aug. 30 along with all other LBUSD schools.Photo by Brittany Murray, Press Telegram/SCNG

Richard D. Browning High School will open in time for the beginning of the upcoming school year, despite Long Beach Unified School District leaders’ decision to find a new contractor to finish the project.

“It will be ready for the first freshmen class to come in and enjoy the wishes of the community, to the desire and aspiration of the community to build a themed high school,” Alan Reising executive director of facilities for the district, said about three months after leaders decided to hire another company to finish the job.

Long Beach Unified staffers told board members that the school’s original contractor had missed its deadline for completion by about 11 months before the time came to decide on whether to hire a new contractor.

Tim Penick, president of original contractor, T.B. Penick & Sons, Inc., however, disputed that contention. He said problems, out of his firm’s control, became apparent after construction began and that construction proceeded along a reasonable timeline if all factors are taken into account.

“In our view, we were on time to complete the project,” Penick said.

He also expressed optimism that his company and the school district would manage to negotiate an agreement to settle the differences that arose during the construction process.

Browning High School, planned especially for students interested in the hospitality and restaurant fields, is scheduled to open Aug. 30 at 2180 Obispo Ave. in Long Beach, northwest of the Traffic Circle and near the line separating Long Beach from Signal Hill.

CONTRACTOR SWITCH

Long Beach Unified’s school board acted in early May to switch contractors. Leaders had initially hired T.B. Penick & Sons, Inc., headquartered in San Diego, in September 2014 for Browning’s construction, awarding the company a contract worth nearly $50 million.

In May, however, the school board adopted a resolution declaring that its contractor and its surety company “have persistently failed and refused to provide the District with any satisfactory assurances that contractor will adequately complete its obligations under the agreement for the project.” That decided, the board hired Neff Construction, Inc., of Ontario to complete Browning High School’s construction.

Reising said district staffers had communicated with the first company for at least a year on scheduling-related issues, since it became clear the project would not be delivered on time.

He and district spokesman Chris Eftychiou, however, said they could not comment in detail on what exactly may have gone wrong during the construction process since it’s possible that a lawsuit may emerge out of the construction problems.

A construction update prepared in April by school district staffers shows a total budget of nearly $70.1 million for Browning High School’s construction. That figure includes the cost of the land, “soft” costs like project management fees and some $58 million worth of hard costs of the actual construction.

That same document reported T.B. Penick & Sons had by then performed nearly $47 million worth of contracted work. It’s not clear at this point to what degree construction delays may have made the school’s construction more expensive. That question is under review.

Measure K, the 2008 bond measure that also financed most of the $85-million cost of building Ernest McBride High School, is also the primary source of funding for Browning High School. Nearly $55 million of the new school’s cost has been financed though Measure K proceeds, with the remainder coming from Measure A bonds and fees imposed on developers.

LBUSD’S COMPLAINTS

As of early May, Long Beach Unified staffers had enumerated what they described as several deficiencies at the construction site. The estimated price to hire Neff Construction to finish the school totaled about $2.5 million.

Neff Construction declined to comment, referring questions to Long Beach Unified.

When Long Beach Unified’s board dropped T.B. Penick & Sons in favor of Neff, Browning High School had doors that could neither open nor close as they should, among other reported problems.

The door issue led to Long Beach Unified dispatching a notice of partial default to T.B. Penick & Sons in February, according to a report prepared for the school board. By March, the problem had not been solved and school district staffers decided against having T.B. Penick & Sons perform that work.

That process was repeated after Long Beach Unified found fault with T.B. Penick & Sons work on other aspects of the construction process, including Browning’s culinary arts classroom, chemical fume hoods, the gymnasium floor and roofing system.

Penick acknowledged there was still work that needed to be done in early May, but also asserted that district staffers’ resolution overstated their case.

“Back in early May, the contractor had some corrective work to do, like would be expected during the closeout of a $50 (million) school, but it’s wildly inaccurate to depict this list as ‘defective work,’” he said in an email.

Hospitality lessons

Educators’ intention for Browning High is for the campus to provide an opportunity for high school students opportunities to study at relatively smaller campus where lesson plans are geared toward specific career objectives.

In the case of Browning High School, the campus’ focus is on the hospitality and restaurant industries. School board president Megan Kerr said the high school’s culinary arts curriculum should dovetail with similar classes offered at Long Beach City College.

“Our goal is to have kids college and career ready so they can come back to Long Beach and live and work,” she said.

The planned opening of Browning High School follows 2013’s opening of McBride High School, which was designed specifically to have a smaller student body than would be typical for a high school in a large city.

Long Beach Unified also opened Sato Academy of Mathematics and Science in 2015 at the east Long Beach site of a now-closed middle school. Like Browning, Sato is also a relatively small campus with an academic theme of its own.