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School dugouts replaced more than 4 times original cost

San Juan Hills High School baseball dugouts built by parent volunteers at a cost of about $20,000 were torn down and rebuilt by the Capistrano Unified School District for $92,400 after district officials realized the project did not meet state building codes.

Capistrano Superintendent Joe Farley said the parents who built the original dugouts late last year were erroneously told by a member of his staff that the project did not require state approval. The structures were cordoned off in April when officials determined they weren't built to code, after just a few months of use.

"The truth is someone from my staff gave them bad information, and because of that, we paid for the reconstruction," Farley said.

Randy Rowles, then the district's executive director of maintenance and operations, signed off on the project, Farley said. He has since left the district, although his departure wasn't related to this incident, Farley said. He was not disciplined because he made an honest mistake, Farley added.

The cost of the reconstruction – more than four times what parent volunteers paid – serves as a cautionary tale for parents and school districts wanting to quickly erect dugouts and other small projects on campuses, officials say.

"It's much better to spend the money upfront than risk being sued later," said Gilda Puente-Peters, principal of GPPA Architects in El Cerrito in the Bay Area, which specializes in building compliance issues.

Farley said San Juan Hills High's original dugout structures weren't built to state standards for earthquake safety. The wooden support beams weren't thick enough and the concrete foundation wasn't deep enough, he said.

"The official analysis is that it may not have sustained an earthquake," Farley said.

Also, the original dugouts and paths leading to them were too narrow for wheelchair access.

"You could have a coach or a team manager in a wheelchair," Farley said.

The Lake Forest company RSB Group demolished and reconstructed the dugouts at a cost of $92,400 earlier this year. The money came from Community Facilities District 98-2, a school district-controlled entity that collects special property taxes from area homeowners to fund school construction and renovation projects.

San Juan Hills baseball parents who raised the original $20,000 for the dugouts declined to comment for this article, and baseball coach Jeremy Wooten did not respond to a request for comment.

School districts are required to submit to the Division of the State Architect the blueprints for any construction project that will be occupied, to ensure compliance with wheelchair-access laws, said Ken Hunt, a department spokesman.

For projects 250 square feet and larger, the project also must be reviewed by the state for its structural integrity – in other words, whether it conforms to all state construction laws.

Farley said the rules led to some confusion in the district's facilities department. Because the original San Juan Hills dugouts were less than 250 square feet Knowles mistakenly assumed they also did not require state review for wheelchair access.

In fact the district should have sought approval on the issue because students were to occupy the dugouts, the state said.

The rebuilt dugouts – one on each side of the school's baseball diamond – are 268 square feet each, slightly larger than the original structures.

Only a limited number of school construction projects that will not be occupied are exempt from all state reviews, Hunt said, including flag poles, retaining walls and other walls, free-standing signs, scrolling message boards, scoreboards and fences.

Puente-Peters said it was not uncommon for construction costs to soar when the builder is required to comply with state building codes. Also, the original San Juan Hills project was built by parent volunteers, saving tremendously on labor costs.

Construction mistakes commonly made by school districts include building ramps at too steep an angle and erecting signs without such elements as proper Braille signage, Puente-Peters said.

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