Corvallis School Bond Projects Plagued by Delays, Extra Costs, and Transparency Issues

Back in 2018, voters approved a $200 million school construction bond, and six years later, the project appears to be plagued with delays and extra costs. Those added expenditures don’t seem major yet, but it’s hard to tell, given the School District doesn’t seem to know exactly what’s happening, and has been less than forthcoming about what it does know. 

For instance, three of the District’s elementary schools have failed to meet City criteria for a final occupancy certificate, and are instead operating under a temporary occupancy permit – which costs $500 monthly. None of the uncompleted construction work seems to impact health and safety in a general sense, but there is unfinished crosswalk work at Letitia Carson Elementary that impacts students and others that may have mobility issues – think wheelchair access and such. 

When we spoke with City Development Review Engineering Supervisor Matt Grassel on Monday, March 25, he said the ramp cutouts for the crosswalk didn’t meet ADA requirements and that the District hadn’t provided him any information about when the work would be completed. 

He did say that intersection work at another elementary school, Bessie Coleman, was finally completed just last week. At Adams, the delay has been for trash enclosure gates.  

When we spoke to various City staffers, they said there’s often delays on items like these, especially since the pandemic. But they also said it’s usually just a matter of a few months, rather than the two years the District has been taking. 

When we initially asked School District Director of Operations Kimberly Patten what the District had paid in temporary certificate of occupancy fees, or TCO fees, she told us the City had waived them. This was on Feb. 23, and on March 5, she sent an email admitting she had misinformed us. 

So, we asked Patten how much had been paid in TCO fees, and she replied that we would have to file a public information request to receive that information – their policy would require we wait up to five business days for the information, and pay them whatever fees they may ask for. 

Rather than that, we called the City instead, and talked with Development Services Manager Kevin Russel, and he sent the information within two hours. As of March 6, the City had received $19,000 from the District for TCO fees, and $4,500 was owed.  

Fortis Construction, Wenaha Group, and The City 

The District chose the Wenaha Group to manage the bond’s projects, and Fortis Construction has been the builder. According to Patten, she was initially under the belief that Wenaha and Fortis had contacted the City about waiving the TCO fees, and that the City had agreed. 

The City says it did receive the request, but denied it. 

We spoke to various City staffers about the denied request – and each had approximately the same responses. Firstly, the City has to remain consistent and impartial in applying its ordinances – and that they don’t have a legal framework to waive the fees. Also, there’s fees for temporary occupancy permits because the City incurs costs when they have to perform extra inspections and such, and that in almost all instances, they are usually issued for just a few months, rather than a couple years. 

Communications Note 

Our initial Feb. 23 phone call with School District Director of Operations Kimberly Patten also included the District’s Public Information Officer and Communications Coordinator Kelly Locey. 

Patten’s response to our email concerning the TCO fees came as an email from her that was forwarded by Locey. 

The District’s website offers information about the bond project, but it does not include TCO costs or an estimated date for coming into compliance with ADA requirements. 

Do you have a story for The Advocate? Email