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Remodel to promote security, ADA compliance

Resident wishes money could have gone to students
By: Bridget Jones, Journal Staff Writer
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A recent tour of the Placer County Office of Education building on Nevada Street revealed the results of a remodel, and some residents are unsure how to feel about the almost $250,000 price tag. Online commenters at AuburnJournal.com described lavishly remodeled private bathrooms and various pieces of new expensive technology, like giant plasma televisions, which turned out to be not completely true. Peter Skibitzki, director of administrative operations and information technology and communications for the county office, led the tour, and said the remodel was really for security purposes. “There were certain areas of confidentiality that needed to be secured,” Skibitzki said. The tour included a walk-through of the administrative building including conference rooms, technology areas, human resources, personnel, business areas and administrative offices. The remodel included the building site at 360 Nevada St. and annex at 365 Nevada St. and was approved on Dec. 11, 2008 by the Placer County Board of Education. The remodel budget was set at $246,415. The project was completed under budget at $245,985. The project was finished in March 2009, according to James Anderberg, executive director of administrative services. Considering the state of the economy, Meadow Vista resident Lois Granstron said she wished the money for the remodel could have been used differently. “Teachers tell me they don’t have enough things in the class,” Granstron said. “They have to buy (items) with their own money, so I’d rather have it go directly to the kids. I think we have kind of lost touch with what education is supposed to be for.” The money for the project was required to be used in the main county office, Anderberg said. “These funds are from our County Service Fund, which is meant for the administration and operation of our county office,” he said in an e-mail. As part of the remodel, a ramp was added to the annex building at 365 Nevada Street to make the facility compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act. A tour of 360 Nevada Street revealed that the remodel included erecting several walls and store-front-type doors to close off personnel, human resources and business areas of the building. Because of the walls, several affected cubicles also had to be reshaped with existing materials. Sliding privacy doors were also added to personnel cubicles. Skibitzki said this was done because other county groups and educational entities use some of the conference rooms in the building for meetings. With the open floor plan that existed previously, visitors could have accessed information from employee desks. Several thefts of personal employee items also occurred before the remodel. Although Skibitzki said the state mandates that employees in the personnel department have privacy while they work, Anderberg said workers held phone conversations that everyone could hear before the remodel. According to Anderberg, when Gayle Garbolino-Mojica took over as superintendent she opted to move into the office that used to serve the former superintendent’s secretary. This left the larger office to become the Library Conference Room. Garbolino-Mojica’s secretary now sits in the common area outside her office. Furniture for the new conference room was purchased for $10,776. Garbolino-Mojica continued to use the office furniture from the former superintendent, Alfred “Bud” Nobili. When commenting on the Journal’s Sept. 28 story, ‘Education administrators making almost $200,000,’ user GiadaD said that Garbolino-Mojica had a private restroom as a result of the remodel. “The AJ should also look into what they are spending money on … like the hundreds of thousands of dollars that was spent to remodel the superintendent’s office, specifically to add a bathroom so she didn't have to share with other employees, the flat screens and smartboards too,” GiadaD commented. “But I guess that was all done with the stimulus money that was never allocated to the classrooms.” The tour revealed that Garbolino-Mojica does not have a private restroom. The office does have two flat television screens mounted on the wall in the front of the building, but according to Skibitzki, the screens were pre-existing and not part of the remodel. Anderberg said another goal of the remodel was to allow more conference space. “Superintendent Garbolino-Mojica reduced the size of her office to allow for an additional meeting space to be used by PCOE,” Anderberg said in an e-mail. Those who use the conference room off Garbolino-Mojica’s office include the superintendent, the office’s cabinet members, and other Placer County Office of Education groups. Also recently purchased, though not as a part of the remodel but through an information technology project, was a video-conferencing unit from Solution Z of Brentwood. The unit cost $13,682, according to Anderberg. Anderberg said all county offices of education are equipped with this kind of technology, and it allows them to communicate with each other as well as other groups on a local level. Anderberg said he uses the unit 15-20 times a year, and the superintendent and her staff use it about one to four times a month. The equipment is also available to other Placer County offices. The video-conferencing equipment was not used during the countywide back-to-school training event in August for several reasons, Anderberg said. “While video conferencing is an extremely cost-effective means of communication, it is most effective with groups ranging from 15-20 people … and (it) is limited in the number of sites we can connect (to),” he said. “Each and every PCOE site would require its own video-conferencing technology. Also, this would not have accommodated our meeting needs for the necessary countywide professional development offering in August. Superintendent Garbolino-Mojica stressed the need for a gathered, cohesive meeting in which the importance of the day’s content could be imparted to all employees.” Lifelong Auburn resident James Carman said he isn’t really comfortable with the amount spent on the remodel and video-conferencing unit, but thinks it might be necessary. “It’s hard to say, because the way things cost nowadays, it’s probably pretty reasonable,” Carman said. “I guess it’s all important that they have these things. Hopefully, it will work and the end results will be what they want.” Auburn resident Terri Harmon said she thinks the amount of money spent on the remodel was too high, especially after the money spent on the training event held at the Gold Country Fairgrounds. “That seems way too high,” Harmon said. “To put information behind a locked door, it seems a little high. They need to spend their money a little better.” Reach Bridget Jones at bridgetj@goldcountrymedia.com