Like any property owner who has built a home from the ground up, Ventura County Community College District administrators are realizing costs always seem to climb.
International steel shortages, higher raw material prices and inflation have pushed up construction and renovation costs at the campuses in Moorpark, Oxnard and Ventura. District officials for months have been whittling away at their expansion master plans and shelving projects in recognition that money -- even $356 million -- just doesn't go as far as it used to.
In spring 2002, county voters authorized $356.3 million in bonds to pay for much-needed modernization, replacement and repair of buildings and athletic facilities. Most of the classrooms and buildings at Ventura College, for instance, were constructed in the 1950s.
But when the first bids came in early last year, it became clear that stepped-up construction in a post-recession period had kept contractors busy; contractors were less likely to trim their prices and found themselves under pressure from increased material costs.
"Initially, there was quite a shock in how much the prices had gone up," said Cheryl Heitmann, president of the district's board of trustees. "Of course you would want to do it all, but our people are realistic. In some cases, we've gone in and scaled back a bit, and maybe consolidated some of the facilities."
J. Handel Evans, the district's program director who oversees the Measure S construction projects, said college officials were initially confident that nearly all of the more than 60 projects listed in the bond measure could be completed with limited use of other state construction funds.
But Evans says that as China prepares to play host to the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, its appetite for steel and other construction materials has dominated worldwide supplies. Consequently, U.S. contractors have passed on their increased costs when seeking contracts, he said.
"At the very beginning, the prices were 25% to 35% higher than expected. It came, slam, right out of left field," Evans said. "We're not in this alone. All you have to do is look around and see what's happening to construction prices in the country. It's a national issue."
Ventura College, whose portion of the bond proceeds is $117.2 million, found that of its 24 planned projects, it could afford only 15 because building-cost estimates ballooned by nearly $46 million.
Similar increases at Moorpark and Oxnard colleges forced district administrators to delay or abandon more than two dozen projects they had hoped to accomplish.
"It's like people who didn't buy a California home before 2002. Who would have known the real estate market and construction industry would zoom out of control when planning was done in 2000 and 2001?" said Ray Di Guilio, vice president of business services at Moorpark College, which has 13,500 students.
"There was no way to predict this level of inflationary costs."
The higher prices mean that Moorpark College, in line for $104.2 million in bond funds, must postpone, perhaps forever, plans to build an $18-million fine arts center to house studios for dance, music and ceramics. Plans to build a student center, a satellite campus in Simi Valley and more parking are also on hold. A library and learning resource center, however, are nearly completed, partly paid for with state funds.
At Ventura College, which has 12,000 students, nine of the projects it planned to pay for with Measure S money had to be shelved, said Tom Kimberling, who monitors the college's building program. They include a science center, a new student activities center and renovation of the campus theater. But the college also has a gleaming new library and learning resource center, paid for primarily with state funds but topped off with Measure S money.
Oxnard College, the youngest and smallest of the three campuses with 6,500 students, stands to lose about a dozen projects, including a health science center, two classroom buildings, a women's softball field and additional bleachers.
President Lydia Ledesma-Reese said it has hurt that plans for creating a signature building on the Oxnard campus -- a performing arts center -- had to be downsized to just a large auditorium. But she stressed that the school continues to expand and no compromises would be made in the level of instruction.
"While we're facing challenging times, we still have excellent staff, faculty and students. And we'll continue to offer a high-quality education," Ledesma-Reese said.