$40 million San Benito CISD project ‘conditionally halted’

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A sign displays renderings of the finished SBCISD Performing Arts Center and Natatorium Facility Tuesday, April 18, 2023, at the construction site in San Benito. (Denise Cathey/The Brownsville Herald)

SAN BENITO — Into the fifth month of the San Benito school district’s shutdown a $40 million bond-funded project, a construction team is reviewing plans aimed at repairing support beams under two buildings’ foundations.

Mike Alex, an architect with McAllen-based ROFA Architects, has presented Davila Construction, the project’s San Antonio-based contractor, with guidelines aimed at repairing some geopiers, or deeply-anchored 2-foot-wide rock columns, found misaligned with the foundations’ targets.

Last month, district officials said they lifted the construction shutdown.

But on Aug. 30, Superintendent Theresa Servellon’s office described the project as “conditionally halted.”

“Construction has been conditionally halted,” Isabel Gonzalez, the school district’s spokeswoman, stated. “Additional evaluation of geopiers has been deemed necessary prior to the completion of a remediation plan.”

Repair guidelines

About five months ago, the district’s administration, under the past school board, halted San Benito’s biggest construction project aimed at building its first performing arts theater and aquatics center after Alex found some geopiers were misaligned.

The shutdown has led the overall project to fall about eight months behind schedule.

Now, it’s unclear how long it could take the contractor to complete the repairs.

“There has been some guidance given to Davila Construction as to how to remediate the construction defects,” Alex, who said he was not the project’s manager, said in an interview. “Davila is agreeing to do the remediation effort. But I don’t know how long it will take them to do that. It’s a construction defect that we’re working through. We’re trying to resolve it, and it is being resolved.”

Meanwhile, Tony Vargas, Davila Construction’s senior project manager, said the company was reviewing the repair plans.

But he didn’t offer the repair project’s timetable.

“We’re working as a team — we’re working through these issues,” he said. “We cleaned up the job site to get back to work.”

Scaffolding covers the exterior of a part of the facility under construction Tuesday, April 18, 2023, at the site of SBCISD’s Performing Arts Center and Natatorium Facility in San Benito. (Denise Cathey | The Brownsville Herald)

Geopiers’ ‘critical’ alignment

Alex called geopiers’ proper alignment “critical” to supporting the buildings.

“Generally speaking, the geopiers are below the structural foundation, in the dirt,” he said. “They help stabilize the soil and they provide increased bearing-capacity to the soil, so it’s critical the geopiers are aligned with the foundational elements to do their job.”

About 1,700 geopiers have been installed beneath each building’s foundation, Vargas said in an earlier interview.

Construction team discussions

Since district officials ordered the shutdown, the construction team made up of parties including Davila Construction and ROFA Architects, has been planning the repair project.

“It seems like all the parties are working together trying to come up with a solution,” school board member Rudy Corona, chairman of the district’s building committee, said in an interview. “They are having weekly discussions. All parties are involved with their attorneys. They’re all trying to move forward. I’ve sat in on some of these meetings. Everyone is very positive — everyone is trying to work together. All the major parties are trying to find a solution.”

Contractor to cover repairs

The district won’t be paying for repairs, school board President Orlando Lopez said.

Construction is halted Tuesday, April 18, 2023, at the site of SBCISD’s future Performing Arts Center and Natatorium Facility in San Benito. (Denise Cathey/The Brownsville Herald)

As part of the district’s contract, Davila Construction will cover repair costs, he said.

In 2019, Lopez was part of a previous administration which entered into the construction contract, locking in prices before the coronavirus pandemic’s production slowdown sparked material cost escalations, he said.

Planning repairs

Last month, Balthazar Salazar, a Houston-based attorney overseeing the district’s construction project, said the previous administration should not have stopped the project.

As part of the repair program, the construction team is planning to install additional geopiers in areas in which the support beams were found misaligned with the buildings’ foundations, he said at the time.

Beneath the building to serve as the district’s first performing arts center, the construction team found some misaligned geopiers, Salazar said.

Meanwhile, the construction team is planning to remove some misaligned geopiers while installing new piers under the building to serve as the district’s first aquatics center, he said.

During construction, crews installed geopiers about 15 feet into the ground to “stabilize” the area’s sandy soil, he said.

In this Sept. 4, 2020, file photo, phase one of construction is underway on the future site of San Benito CISD’s aquatic center and performing arts center. (Claire Cruz | Valley Morning Star)


In 2018, Lopez helped a previous administration push for a $40 million bond issue to fund construction of the $21.3 million performing arts theater, the $8.8 million aquatics center and a $5.7 million indoor practice field, which has been completed.

In a heated election, 54 percent of voters passed the bond issue.

“I just want this project to get started,” Lopez said in an interview. “I want this project to be sound for the safety of the kids. These are state-of-the-art buildings. It’s something the community wanted for our kids. The longer we wait, the less kids get to experience it.”

In October 2021, Davila Construction launched the project to build the performing arts theater and aquatics center.

In February, before officials shut down the construction project, a district report showed Davila Construction was requesting the performing arts theater’s completion date be pushed from July 21 to Dec. 28 while the aquatics center’s completion date be changed from April 14 to Sept. 19.

Officials haven’t announced changes to the project’s timetable.