Fresno Unified to challenge appeal over no-bid contracts

The Fresno BeeNovember 6, 2013 

SCHOOL CONSTRUCTION

Fresno Unified School District's Gaston Middle School is shown in its rough framing stage on Wednesday, July 24, 2013 in Fresno, Calif. The school, which will be located along Martin Luther King Boulevard, should have substantial construction completed by May 2014 and open for students in the Fall of 2014, according to FUSD facilities manager Lincoln Owensby.

ERIC PAUL ZAMORA — THE FRESNO BEE Buy Photo

The legal battle over whether Fresno Unified School District illegally hired a contractor to build a new southwest Fresno school is still alive despite the district's victory in an initial court ruling over the summer.

Stephen Davis, president of Fresno-based Davis-Moreno Construction Inc., has filed an appeal in the case, which alleges the district's contract with Harris Construction Co. to build Rutherford B. Gaston Middle School evaded the competitive bidding process.

The school board voted unanimously in closed session Wednesday to fight the appeal, which comes three months after a Fresno County Superior Court judge squelched the initial suit.

That suit aimed to stop the district from paying Harris Construction Co. and make Harris pay back any dollars it's already received.

Fresno Unified awarded the middle school construction contract through a method called lease/leaseback instead of the traditional practice of choosing the lowest bid.

Through lease/leaseback, the district leases land to a developer for a nominal amount, typically $1 a year, and the district pays the developer for the building over a period of time.

Davis' attorney, Kevin Carlin, said Wednesday that Judge Donald Black didn't buy his argument that while it's legal for the district to lease its own land without a bidding process, a separate part of the state's education law requires districts to bid out contracts for the building phase.

Even so, Carlin said he's confident he'll prevail in appeals court.

"The Court of Appeals is really where you have the more philosophical discussions about what is the law, how can it be applied and what's the public policy behind it," he said.

Superintendent Michael Hanson did not give additional details about the suit or appeal on Wednesday.

In other business, the board approved a $3.9 million plan to build a new pool at Edison High. Roosevelt and Sunnyside will each get a fresh coat of exterior paint under two separate $1 million plans.

The board also discussed a proposed science and math program at Gaston.

The school, which is scheduled to open next August, would offer special classes aligned with Edison High's science magnet program.

District officials said seventh-graders would take classes on green technology and biotechnology while eighth-graders would learn about engineering and physics.

The reporter can be reached at (559) 441-6412, hfurfaro@fresnobee.com or @hannahfurfaro on Twitter.

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