By the time this story is published, construction will have begun on Oak Hills High School.

The day after contracts were signed last Tuesday, and two days after the Hesperia Unified School District school board voted 4-0 to approve their bid, ASR Constructors employees were at the Ranchero Road site, getting the lay of the land and planning for the 22 months of work needed to get the HUSD's next high school built and ready to open.

The Riverside company's bid came in $31 million below the $105 million estimate given by George Landon, the HUSD's Assistant Superintendent of Business Services, to the board earlier this year.

Since then, a number of things happened.

The school board pursued a new model for building schools, construction management, a system popular with other High Desert school districts, and initially sought to award the contract to build OHHS to Rancho Cucamonga-based WLC Construction Services. The decision drew criticism and the hint of legal threats from other firms vying for the contract, whose representatives noted that WLC had less experience, a higher price and promised a later delivery than their companies had.

The initial decision -- later reversed on the advice of the HUSD's legal counsel -- was one of the reasons for a recall put forth by a group of residents seeking to remove the three newly elected school board members (Hardy Black, Robert Kirk and Lee Rogers) who voted to award the contract to WLC.

Instead of having an outside firm manage the project (with an additional outside manager hired to oversee WLC's management of the OHHS project), the task of building the school reverted to the HUSD facilities staff. But the atmosphere has remained tense among the school board, leading to a flare-up at the September 24 school board meeting, with board members accusing one another of violating state law.

But for the employees of ASR, 200 or more of whom live in Hesperia, what matters most to them is not the politics, but the task before them.

"We've done a ton of work up there] because we have so many employees who live up there," Marc Berry, ASR's Operations Manager, said Thursday. The firm is currently building Cedar Middle School, Mission Crest Elementary School and the Hesperia High School science complex.
Ironically, ASR is one of the prime contractors working for WLC in the Apple Valley Unified School District. The company does a fair amount of work this way, but says for new projects, hiring a general contractor like ASR directly makes more sense for a government agency.

"It's more competitive, no ifs, ands or buts about it," Berry said.

ASR will make an estimated 8 to 9 percent profit building OHHS, he said.

In contrast, when a construction management firm "splits it up into several prime contracts," ASR Senior Project Manager Dave Thompson said,

"It drives the cost up."

Companies hired by a construction management company often add in a 20 percent profit on their work, said Thompson, the man in charge of the OHHS project, and the management firm charges a percentage fee as well. WLC was to charge HUSD 7.5 percent of the final cost of the high school.

"The Hesperia district isn't going to save any money putting out new projects [as opposed to modernization projects on existing sites] as a construction management project," Berry said.

Going with a general contractor also tends to be faster, according to him.

"By the time [a school district puts a construction project] out for bid," Berry said, "They needed it two years ago."

And time is of the essence with OHHS, as it will drain off a large number of Hesperia High School Students when it opens. As of September 24, Hesperia High had 3,641 students and is expected to approach 4,000 by the end of the 2007-2008 school year.

The low bid -- owed in part to the price decline of some construction materials due to the nationwide housing construction slump -- meant the HUSD could afford to pick up some upgrades for OHHS, like a new car buyer turning part of a good deal into a better stereo system or a moon roof. Oak Hills students will run on a synthetic rubber track instead of the cinder tracks that Sultana and Hesperia High Schools have and a bathroom facility adjacent to the football field. At the end of the day, the new high school had a $74 million price tag.

"To us, it's a simple job," Thompson said. "We're on site today. There's not a construction manager around that would be on site that fast. You'd be lucky to have them on site by December."

Beau Yarbrough can be reached at 956-7108 or at beau@hesperiastar.com.