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Pinner files a more than $35 million lawsuit against the LACCD for wrongful termination over VACC

Updated: May 6

A new legal battle ensues over the Valley Academic and Cultural Center.

By Star Eisenberg and Milan Rafaelov, Editors-in-Chief

The Valley Academic and Cultural Center remains unfinished. Photo taken Tuesday, March 19 by Valley Star staff.

Pinner Construction filed a wrongful termination suit against the LACCD after the district ended its contract with the construction company to complete the $100 million Valley Academic and Cultural Center.

[The] LACCD has terminated the original contractor and is currently in the procurement process for a new contractor to complete this theater and classroom building,” according to an email sent Friday by LACCD’s Director of Communications and Marketing Juliet Hidalgo on behalf of BuildLACCD.

The termination of the contract by the district and the legal response by Pinner is the latest in a series of battles between the two sides. The district ended its contract with Pinner on March 8, and Pinner filed a multimillion dollar lawsuit against the LACCD 10 days later.

The suit states Pinner is “entitled to its unpaid contract balance of $5,876,150 plus consequential damages.”  Pinner Chief Administrative Officer Newt Kellam said the suit also includes “extra costs totaling $30 million and unspecified damages for wrongful termination.” 

According to Kellam, the company has completed 99.12 percent of its contract work.  

Kellam added, “LACCD’s bad faith termination of [the] Pinner contract is obvious retaliation for Pinner serving its amended taxpayer complaint naming the board members the same week LACCD issued its notice to cure and is a desperate attempt to defend the $30 million in extra costs incurred by Pinner and its subcontractors since the previous arbitration.”

The relationship between Pinner and the LACCD has been contentious since 2022.  That year, Pinner filed a lawsuit against the LACCD, alleging overspending exceeding $12 million and accusing the district’s projects team of racketeering.  These allegations implied deliberate efforts to extend construction timelines for increased billable hours, sparking legal disputes among involved parties. This legal action brought to light a no-change orders policy imposed by the district board without Pinner’s knowledge, according to the independent arbitrator’s report conducted by Deborah S. Ballati.

The arbitrator’s report determined that the LACCD was primarily responsible for the delays, resulting in a directive to compensate Pinner Construction and its subcontractors for $3,172,612. 

Touted as the jewel of Valley College, the building has roots as far back as 2002 when it was called the LAVC Media Arts Center and a “final draft” document by Gonzalez/Goodale Architects states that the new building “is a key expression of Los Angeles Valley College’s commitment to the arts, and the media arts in particular.” 

Initially budgeted at $78.5 million, costs have ballooned to $100 million, saddling taxpayers with an additional $20 million. As part of Valley College’s Facilities Master Plan, the VACC broke ground in 2016 with construction scheduled to conclude in 2018. The deadline was pushed back twice, first to 2020, then to 2022.

The building now sits idle on the north side of campus near the corners of Oxnard Street and Fulton Avenue with no firm completion date in sight.

The Valley Academic and Cultural Center stands incomplete. Photo taken Tuesday, March 19 by Valley Star staff.

The plans call for the 118,000-square-foot-facility to house theater, music, media arts, cinema, broadcasting, journalism, and the photography programs. The building was contracted to include a wide range of facilities: a 430-seat main stage theater, a 143-seat horseshoe theater, a 221-seat screening theater, a 76-seat smart lecture hall, classrooms, studios, a newsroom and a radio station.

Due to the ongoing delays, some of the programs and their students have resorted to using make-shift classrooms and outdated facilities. In particular, the theater department performs plays at the Campus Center and looks for off-site facilities for their performances. 

“We’re like these nomads that move around from building to building,” said Kurt Swick, a theater major at Valley. “Do I sometimes feel very cheated? Yeah, ‘cause it’s not fair. But my philosophy is that our theater department is about the people, not the building.”  

BuildLACCD declined to provide further comment regarding the matter, citing the ongoing contractual dispute, claims, and litigation; however, Juliet Hidalgo sent BuildLACCD’s response about the VACC to the Valley Star.

“LACCD’s 20 plus year bond program has delivered almost 800 projects that have transformed the facilities of our nine community colleges into modern, full-service, best in class institutions.  The commitment to deliver the Valley Academic and Cultural Center for the students and faculty at Los Angeles Valley College remains our top priority.”


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