Los Banos

Contractor for Los Banos’ Mercey Springs project addresses criticism

A contractor hired to manage the expansion project for Los Banos’ Mercey Springs Elementary rejects criticism of the deal and of a 2008 lawsuit he filed against the school district.

Greg Opinski, owner of Merced-based Greg Opinski Construction, also dismissed claims that he would be overpaid for the work, saying payment estimates do not account for his expenses.

Members of the Los Banos Unified School District appointed Opinski to manage the expansion project May 12, overruling a recommendation from the board facilities committee to hire Hanford-based Bush Construction.

Board supporters of Opinski said they preferred his adherence to a maximum price and transparency he offered in the project.

During a special meeting July 26, the board voted 4-3 to award Opinski a contract worth up to $541,208. The agreement makes Opinski responsible for coordination, administration and scheduling of all work on the construction project, which school officials estimate will cost $6 million to $7 million. The district also will reimburse Opinski or other vendors for expenses up to $99,620.

The decision was denounced by several residents during Thursday’s regular board meeting.

“It just seems odd to me,” resident Carolyn Smith said.

Resident Chu’an Menefee and others also questioned the legitimacy of the deal.

“I just can’t make sense of this,” Menefee said. “The only thing that I can assume is that there is some sort of funny business going on behind the scenes.”

Dennis Areias, a board member who voted against the deal, suggested Thursday that Opinski may have a friendship with board member Tommy Jones stemming from work Opinski did for the city of Los Banos during Jones’ time as mayor and that the two may have made a secret deal before the matter went to a board vote.

Opinski said the allegations of a secret deal and other wrongdoing are offensive.

“I don’t like it and I don’t appreciate it,” Opinski said in an interview. “This all has to do with a (board) fight. ... Obviously, there are other things provoking it and it doesn’t have to do with us.”

During Thursday’s meeting, Areias asked Jones to answer two questions: Has Jones ever taken perks or money from Opinski, and has he paid a board member to secure a vote? Jones didn’t respond to the questions and was silent for most of the meeting, besides asking administrators for an audio recording of the last meeting.

In an earlier interview, Jones strongly denied being influenced by a personal relationship.

“There was no relationship,” Jones said. “One thing I did want is I want local people to get the jobs.”

Past lawsuit

Dissenting trustees and members of the public brought up several complaints related to a lawsuit Opinski filed against the district in 2008, when he was passed over for the contract to build Pacheco High School.

Opinski said he sued the district after receiving information that people associated with or working for the winning contractor had ties to it.

The two sides reached a settlement deal in 2009, according to a school district copy obtained by the Enterprise. In it, Opinski agreed to drop his lawsuit in lieu of a $25,000 payment from the school district and contractor.

Opinski said he agreed to the settlement when it was clear the school district wouldn’t budge from its position.

However, Areias, who was on the school board at the time, noted Thursday that Opinski had filed appeals after getting turned down by a judge. And when attorney fees were piling up to be more than Opinski was seeking, Areias said it made more sense for the district to settle.

Areias said Opinski has a record of filing lawsuits against public bodies that hire him. Opinski acknowledged being involved with several lawsuits, but said many were “pass-through claims” – disputes between subcontractors and the hiring body.

Too much money?

Critics of the deal with Opinski say Bush Construction would have saved the district money because its bid offered a construction fee equal to 4 percent of the construction cost, or about $280,000.

Areias and board member John Mueller, who also voted against the contract with Opinski, say Opinski’s deal will amount to about 9.1 percent for the same project cost.

Opinski said critics aren’t taking into account that much of the $541,208 in the contract won’t go toward profit, but to building costs. However, Opinski couldn’t provide the exact amount of profit he would make, something board member Anthony Parreira, who also opposed the deal, wanted to know at the special meeting.

“My estimate would be between $250,000 to $300,000, but I really don’t know,” Opinski said, adding that his true profit would likely amount to less than 4 percent of the construction cost.

Opinski also noted that bids for construction haven’t been awarded, making the actual cost unknown.

Vikaas Shanker: 209-826-3831, ext. 6562