A new construction manager for Palo Alto schools will replace a man who earlier designed an elementary school condemned as unsafe and subsequently demolished, Superintendent Kevin Skelly announced Monday.
Although Darrell James Jackson's work has been satisfactory, publicity surrounding the earlier school led the district to seek a new construction manager from firm VBN Architects, Skelly said.
"It just puts him in awkward position. It starts being an issue about what happened in the past rather than the work he's doing now," he said.
The public wouldn't believe the district was performing top-quality construction, he said.
Maintaining public trust is crucial for the district in the weeks leading up to the June 3 vote on whether to approve a $378 million bond measure to renovate and expand Palo Alto schools.
Skelly also defended architectural firm VBN's failure to disclose Jackson's past, saying because Jackson managed construction, rather than designing buildings, the firm had no responsibility to reveal his previous architectural mistakes.
"You can plausibly say their disclosure was not required. ... Nothing in his job required him to be a licensed architect," he said.
The district wouldn't have asked about his background, according to Skelly, who was not superintendent at the time. "There's no point at which you say, 'Do you happen to have a project manager who used to be an architect and lost his license?'"
To a Weekly reporter, he said: "It would be like my asking you, 'Have you ever had [a drunk driving [offense' if you were a journalist."
Jackson oversaw about $60 million worth of construction on Jordan Middle School and Palo Alto and Gunn high schools from 1998 to the present.
He worked under the district's contract with VBN Architects to complete projects funded by the 1995 bond Measure B, under its "Building for Excellence" Campaign.
Prior to working in Palo Alto, Jackson had his license revoked for designing Dorris Elementary School in Siskiyou County. The school was torn down after state inspectors found 180 separate violations of state standards — including faulty roofing and poor fire safety — when construction ended in 1993.
Jackson petitioned three times for his license to be reinstated, finally succeeding in 2005.
The school district learned of Jackson's past from a Palo Alto Daily News reporter last week.
The Daily News and the Palo Alto Weekly ran stories about Jackson and his work in Palo Alto.
In response, Jackson will be replaced by a different manager from VBN architects, Skelly said.
Local schools are safe, he said.
Jackson performed managerial functions that didn't require a license and his work was always overseen by a licensed architect.
"This person plugged in at a lower position than an architect. The firm let him do that," he said.
As well, plans were reviewed by the state and an inspector must be present during construction, he said.
Yet inspectors were also present during construction in Dorris.
But Skelly said state inspection standards became "vastly better" between the 1991 construction at Dorris and 1998, when Jackson joined the district.
A press release from Skelly defends Jackson's work in Palo Alto.
"Mr. Jackson helped set direction for the district's work and helped develop the facility master plan. In this capacity, Mr. Jackson performed his duties faithfully and did quality work on behalf of VBN and the district," it states.
Gunn Principal Noreen Likins said the school had no complaints about work Jackson performed there.
Skelly also defended the firm itself, saying VBN came to the district during the early, troubled years of Measure B, when multiple construction plans fell through, and helped put it back on track.
Plus, it would be would be tough to change architects in the middle of upcoming projects, such as a $5.6 million upgrade of Gunn High School's industrial arts building, he said.
"They know that building inside and out and they know what they want to do," he said.
He also defended VBN's choice not to reveal Jackson's past to the district.
"You can plausibly say their disclosure was not required," he said.
He also said he was unsure how to avoid such a situation in the future.
"We're going to review how we deal with this," he said.
He said he asked VBN employees Monday whether there were any more critical pieces of information about staff backgrounds the firm hadn't earlier disclosed, and they said no.
After a decade of working together, he trusts them, he said.
Trust is important before the June 3 vote. Some, including Palo Alto resident and vocal bond-measure opponent Wayne Martin, have questioned whether the district can be trusted to hire competent managers, especially after Measure B's rocky start.
But Skelly and others have promised future construction will be better managed. The district would carefully review qualifications of any firm applying to build under Measure A, Co-chief Business Official Bob Golton said at the last school board meeting.