Decision underscores longstanding infrastructure deficit; Leigh Sata named interim VC

Former Vice Chancellor Sadiq Ikharo (center) answers questions about the Fire Watch at the Feb. 26 Board of Trustees meeting. His replacement Leigh Sata, was announced on March 26, just days after the fess of the fire watch at Laney reached $100,000

by Saskia Hatvany

Exactly two weeks after Jowel C. Laguerre officially left his position as chancellor, the district announced on May 14 that the vice chancellor of general services, Sadiq Ikharo, had been put on permanent leave.

“It appears to me that the district was in a period of mismanagement as it relates to facilities maintenance, and it’s hard to say the money’s not there because we still have Measure A dollars,” said Interim Chancellor Frances L. White.

Leigh Sata was announced as the Interim Vice Chancellor of General Services at the March 26 Peralta Trustees meeting. His resumé includes over 13 years experience in facilities and bond management.

With a background in architecture, Sata led design and construction consultant teams for Swinerton Management and Consulting for seven years, serving several schools in the San Francisco Bay Area.

His experience led him to become executive bond manager at Solano Community College in 2013, where he was responsible for creating and implementing the District’s $348 million capital improvement program, and in 2015 he went on to manage a $410 million Measure H for Santa Rosa Junior College.

Despite their years of combined experience, Sata and White both face a steep uphill battle.

Peralta was hit with the lowest possible score on fiscal health from the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges in November 2018, forcing the district to come up with a new financial plan.

Meanwhile, declining enrollment threatens to significantly reduce funds after the two-year “held-harmless” exemption is up.

“We’d better have something to go by the time that two-year period is up because the money won’t be coming in,” said White, whose top priorities are the implementation of a new financial plan and stabilization of leadership.

Peralta’s facilities are still lacking, despite recent improvements using Measure A funds, which were initially approved by Alameda County voters in 2006 to improve facilities.

As of May 2015, over $119 million remained of the initial $390 million, according to a progress report published by the Measure A Citizens Oversight Committee.

So far, several major projects have emerged from the bond measure, including a new athletic field center at Laney, costing just over $20 million, and the Barbara Lee Science and Allied Health Building for Merritt College, priced at $47 million.

However, much of the infrastructure at Merritt, Alameda and Laney campuses are still in need of attention.

A 2017 assessment found that 87 percent of the Laney campus buildings had a “poor” Facility Condition Index rating (FCI), requiring either “renovation or replacement,” as stated in the Facilities Utilization Space Inventory Options Net (FUSION) report.

The FCI evaluates the cost of total ownership, versus the cost of replacing a building or system all together.

At Laney, a majority of the buildings’ ratings are above 50 percent, meaning that the cost of fixing each building would be equal to more than half the cost of erecting a new structure.

The campus’s HVAC systems were also deemed “antiquated” and in need of replacement in 13 of Laney’s 15 buildings, while the electrical, emergency and lighting systems are nearing critical condition.

At College of Alameda, the Aviation Technology Building has a rating of 120 percent, meaning that it would be cheaper to demolish the building than attempt repairs.

According to Barney McClung, a structural assessor for FUSION, the state of the Peralta campuses is relatively standard in the world of California community colleges.

“Because of budget cuts, they weren’t able to do maintenance, and that shortens the life of the systems,” he said.

For some who have worked at Laney for years, the explanation of the lacking budget falls short of excusing the systematic problems in district management.

Louis Quindlen, chair of machine technology, was on the District Facilities Committee for five years and co-chaired it with Ikharo for two years.

“The reason I quit is because it was a fruitless effort in trying to get movement in that area with [Ikharo] in place,” said Quindlen.

According to Quindlen, the former vice chancellor consistently cut corners when it came to making repairs.

The administration building elevators should have been repaired when the building was closed in 2011, but that never happened. Now the elevators are being serviced while the building is still occupied, which could take months, Quindlen said.

“What happens if somebody gets trapped in an elevator?” he said. “We have people on the 7th floor who are in wheelchairs.”

His concern is mirrored at the district level.

“There are broken processes, absolutely,” said White. “It’s going to take a lot of will and persistence to get out of this. It’s not a quick fix.”

The decision to replace Ikharo also comes shortly after the board was notified that the Laney College campus had been put on costly fire watch, despite having planned a complete overhaul of the fire systems in 2017.

The Fire Watch service has cost the district $12,000 a week since the beginning of the semester, totaling around $100,000 as of March 22.

“It’s like burning money,” said Quindlen.

The day of Ikharo’s departure, Peralta Colleges made the local news when KTVU reported on the condition of the Emergency Blue Phones, many of which remain broken after more than a decade of negligence.

President of the Associated Students of Merritt College Ya’Mese Johnson brought up the issue to the board at the March 26 Trustees meeting. Johnson recently had knee surgery, and she has made it her focus to ensure ADA compliance is being met.

The phones promise a 25-minute wait time for police, but according to Johnson, she pressed the button on one of the new phones as an experiment and nothing happened.

“I waited 25 minutes, and no police came,” she said.

To Quindlen, the future is uncertain, and there could be serious implications if something doesn’t change soon.

“The ship is sinking now, we need everybody bailing as fast as we can, and plugging the leaks, but we don’t know what will be here in five years,” he said.

Saskia Hatvany is a reporter and co-editor of the Laney Tower