Saturday, May 24, 2014

Expensive construction is expensive

According to the latest school board agenda packet, the administration is recommending that the district delay the renovation and expansion of Twain Elementary that was supposed to begin this summer, because the bids came in much higher than expected.

It’s not a good sign when the very first project in the Facilities Master Plan has to be delayed and re-bid, “with possible revisions in the scope,” because it’s too expensive.

At some point, won’t it make sense to reconsider tearing down existing capacity while building new capacity elsewhere? I’m all in favor of Twain getting renovations, air conditioning, and a gym or multi-purpose room, but what is the urgency about adding new classrooms? Under the most recent redistricting proposal, both Twain and the new South elementary school will be only two-thirds full. Even if the district wants to leave some extra space to try a magnet school at Twain, the capacity is there in the short-term, and the addition can wait. But instead, the Twain project includes not only renovations but an addition—and then it turns out to be so expensive that the whole thing may be delayed.

Just wait until we see the actual price tag for the Mann and Longfellow additions, which are much bigger than the Twain addition. Both of those schools could have gotten air conditioning, renovations, and multi-purpose rooms sooner if the projects hadn’t been accompanied by huge, expensive additions—none of which would be necessary if Hoover were kept open. Now those schools will have to wait much longer—all the while wondering whether the projects will ever happen as planned, or whether they too will end up facing “possible revisions in the scope.”

We don’t need to tear down 300 seats of capacity at Hoover. We don’t need to build 330 seats of new capacity onto Longfellow and Mann. We don’t need to rush into adding capacity to Twain. What those buildings need is air conditioning, renovations, and multi-purpose rooms. The district’s drive to shift toward fewer, larger elementaries, farther away from where people live, is what’s delaying and endangering the construction that we actually need.
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19 comments:

Michael Tilley said...

I can already hear the response from the "bigger is better" school of thought: "Sure, it is cheaper to not build bigger schools, but it will save money in terms of yearly, operational costs and that means that bigger schools will prevent future budget cuts and/or increased class sizes."

Although there is some merit to that claim for schools of drastically different sizes, it doesn't hold for many of our schools. My response to this objection is linked here. In short, I argue that if you had three schools operating at the efficiency of 3 of our 450 student schools, that we'd actually lose money compared to 4 of our 350 student schools.

Chris said...

Michael -- Thanks! I actually meant to link to that post. Notice also that even with the addition, Twain's capacity would be slightly lower than Hoover's.

Michael Tilley said...

Chris, that's based on allocation of preschool rooms and special education rooms. Twain actually has one more room than Hoover.

Chris said...

The consultants put Twain's capacity at 252, and Hoover's at 306. Two additional classrooms would bring Twain up to 302. I understood that those numbers were total capacity, not adjusted for projected use of the rooms -- is that wrong?

Plus, as I understood it, the consultants rejected the previous approach of simply counting rooms and multiplying, and took size of the rooms into account. Could that explain the difference?

Michael Tilley said...

Chris, BLDD (and Dude's similar numbers) are based on (a) the number of classrooms used for general education (this requirement is where special education and preschool classrooms come into play; I'm confused as to whether, for example, the two classrooms that are currently used as a multipurpose room at Hoover were counted or not, I suspect not), the number of students that those spaces can accommodate (I've not seen BLDD's method for calculating this, but it ends up with almost the exact same result as Dude's calculations), and that result times 80% (that's the utilization multiplier, since, say, my son's second grade class is in his home classroom about 80% of the time). I think your description is about the 2nd and 3rd criteria, and I was suggesting that the first plays a big role for Twain too.

Also, from what I understand, Twain and Hoover have almost the exact same design except Twain has one more classroom.

Chris said...

You know this stuff better than I do, but that sure is a pretty crazy way of determining capacity, especially since some special uses (like Hoover's autism classrooms, which draw from many attendance areas) are not specific to the Hoover attendance area. It makes it impossible for anyone (or at least anyone who doesn't have independent information about the design of each school) to compare the sizes of the different schools and the different possible uses of them. It also makes schools like Twain and Hoover look smaller on paper than they actually are.

I'm not surprised to hear, though, that Hoover's real capacity is significantly larger than 306.

Michael Tilley said...

It does make it difficult for laypersons to compare capacity, and that's a challenge. But it is also important to not have on-paper capacity that differs drastically from how we use the space(e.g., we could fit 380 students if there weren't any special education, preschool classes, and if we didn't have to use classrooms as a multipurpose room, so a 380 figure would be misleading for different reasons), and this is born out by the fact that there is a very strong correlation between going over your BLDD capacity, as least as elementary schools are currently structured (preschool and special ed wise), and needing modulars. For instance, last year we were around 360, and Hoover needed two modulars (the equivalent of about two classes worth of students).

Chris said...

It doesn't seem like it would be that hard to have an "overall capacity" number and a "capacity as currently used" number for each school.

Chris said...

Another reason the capacity figures are misleading, then, is that they understate the impact of closing Hoover. So closing Hoover will mean the loss of 306 gen-ed seats, but it will also cause some other school's capacity number to go down, because the autism classes will have to go somewhere.

Michael Tilley said...

And the preschool class too, most likely. I think we will need the extra capacity given current projections, but we won't need it on the east side with the two new east side elementary schools and the large expansions at Longfellow, Mann, and Shimek among others.

Chris said...

I wish someone would tell me where those 180 additional students at Mann are going to come from. Mann sits in a densely populated area; there aren't going to be any new developments in its immediate surroundings. The superintendent has made it clear that he expects few if any Hoover kids to end up there if Hoover closes (most will go to Longfellow and Lemme).

If they're going to fill those seats, I can see only two sources for those kids: (1) kids from significantly farther away, possibly chosen for their effect on the FRL rate, or (2) kids from yet another closure (Lincoln? Shimek?). What other possibilities are there?

Michael Tilley said...

I've heard through the grapevine that the peninsula that is currently districted to Mann will see more and more residential development. But if it develops over the trailer park next to I80, then you could see a net loss in students?

Otherwise, I think it will likely pull from other West of the River locations. I'm not sure where exactly though. Remember, we will need about 200-300 students coming from traditional West High districted elementary students to attend elementary schools that traditionally have been districted to City High.

Now, those students probably won't attend City High, since you'll have to send about 800 or so students from elementary schools currently districted to City to either the North or West High Schools.

Chris said...

Well, at that point, my head spins. We're going to send kids from the west side to Mann, and then send Mann (or parts of Mann) to West or the North high school?

And where will they come from? The only west-side area at all convenient to Mann is Manville, where Lincoln is. The area around Roosevelt would probably be the next closest, but that would probably move Mann's FRL rate away from the diversity goals. Where to next?

Michael Tilley said...

North Lincoln areas? Parts of Coralville? It won't be easy, in my opinion.

Anonymous said...

It's no secret the Administration wants to close the smaller schools; Lincoln and Hills in particular. I'm guessing Manville to Mann.

Not sure about Lincoln's proposed Coralville attendance. Not like it matters, nobody really cares about them anyway.

Julie VanDyke said...

My initial response to having read this blog the other day:

How convenient that this conversation is SO important NOW. If Lewis, the Gazette, and local apathy from too many people who should know better hadn't helped the superintendent and 5/7ths of the board spend almost a year focused on trying to steal freedom of speech from Phil Hemingway and me, and instead focused on actually running the district and proposing solutions to the very real problems Phil and I actually have the courage to name, we wouldn't be in the budget cat and mouse game being played on us like the bad joke that it is.
Lewis sold any integrity or honor he had when he started drinking and eating out if Murley's hand. He, as a writer's workshop graduate, lost the rest of it when he and his goon squad worked so hard, in sync with Murley and Kirschling, to selectively attack freedom of speech in their own back yard. He is a tool and in love with his own voice and the attention he's getting from lying school district superintendents and board directors. Everything that comes out of his mouth self-serves his own already declared campaign for the next school board election or is the same crap Murley and his dogsled team of pet directors have spewed already. He sold Hoover and its families out without hesitation when he traded the community's cow for Murley's magic beans.

Now I hear, because of the suspiciously under-estimated cost for the unvetted administration cooked-up mission creep from Twain getting what it most needed taken care of as quickly as possible to the Twain Taj Mahal (magic beans), he has harmed ALL of the small neighborhood school chances for survival. He is a tool, a pawn, Murley's pet megaphone (for the moment at least till he figures out he's been played), and too in love with his self-promoted image if a golden philosopher prince to ever regain credibility or trustworthiness. If he'd kept his eye on the prize, the HVAC for high poverty schools AND keeping Murley from twisting the Diversity Policy from being programming and resource driven change to one solely effected by busing where would we be now? He didn't. He fell for Murley's ego flattery and magic beans.

Chris, thank you for not trading your integrity for magic beans or drinking the Murley coolade.

Those of us that agree with the following need to vocally and publicly hold the board and administration responsible to set the clock BACK to the original needs that had been determined for each of the smaller schools AS ORIGINALLY DISCUSSED. And we need to hold the district administration and board responsible for wasted time and MONEY to change those plans from realistic and sensible into Disney Land for the sole purpose of showing us that the cost will be too high. I don't care what Disney Land costs in relation to what is and is not possible to allow the smaller schools to function as they should. I care what the cost will be to get HVAC into the high poverty schools and I want the administration held responsible for the costs they slipped in to a total mission creep from what was on the real table in the first place. Yet one more reason we shouldn't be working with preferred vendors without open bidding of projects...if the estimates are really as far off from what the districts preferred vendors told us they would be, perhaps we should get some of our money back.

EDJ said...

As far as Twain needing or not needing the extra classrooms: our current capacity is listed as 252, and we currently house 360 students with one modular. Our art room is shared with another specialty room, and at least one of our "rooms" is a re-purposed storage closet. I think that, at least pre-magnet, the added classrooms were more than justified even without taking projected growth into account. The added classrooms were also planned to be built alongside the added gym/multipurpose room, which allows us to have a gym that doesn't also have to double as a cafeteria.

The magnet does open up some possibilities for possibly scaling back, but what the magnet's attendance area would be, or if it even would have one, seems to be a little up in the air, based on my conversations with the superintendent and BoE members. I do think though that the school's current facilities would be effectively anti-magnetic, at least for anyone coming from a facilities-rich environment. I think that if they're going to go ahead with the magnet, then the timeline is paramount here.

BTW, according to the supt., the one item that blew up the budget seems to have been an electrician's bid that went 900K over estimate. I'm awaiting a chance to talk to David Dude about this and get more details.

Chris said...

EDJ -- I don't want a school to be overcrowded, but I don't see any point in building additional classrooms for overcrowding that is scheduled to be addressed through redistricting (and a new school opening) just one year out. When temporaries really are temporary, I don't have an objection to them.

I would also add that I now officially have no idea what the district means by a "capacity of 252," especially if Michael is right that Twain is very similar to Hoover (capacity "306") but has one more classroom than Hoover. The district's choice of how to present capacity data makes this discussion close to impossible.

Julie VanDyke said...

"BTW, according to the supt., the one item that blew up the budget seems to have been an electrician's bid that went 900K over estimate. I'm awaiting a chance to talk to David Dude about this and get more details."

EDJ spews more Murley-speak without shame, citations or references...Michael Tilley maintains effective non-bias so far in my opinion.

Maybe if Murley spent more time talking to the entire public about things like this, instead of just his cheerleading team of magic bean eaters, it would be called TRANSPARENCY because everyone would know what he did or did not say, he might then be held accountable for it instead of holding up the "plausible deniability" card as usual and escaping any responsibility.

"The magnet" has not been publicly defined, nor has it been publicly vetted, so what "The magnet" could or could not do is not possible to know...not until those things have occurred amongst others.

Urban Dictionary
Plausible Deniability
1- A condition in which a subject can safely and believeably deny knowledge of any particular truth that may exist because the subject is deliberately made unaware of said truth so as to benefit or shield the subject from any responsibility associated through the knowledge of such truth.
The CIA black ops division undertakes dangerous and usually what would be considered illegal missions that are not officially sanctioned by the US administration so that the administration, which usually benefits from such missions, can safely dissavow any knowledge of them in the event of their publically uncovered success or failure. The administration is in the position of plausible deniability towards the CIA's actions.
2- Plausible deniability actually is a legal concept. It refers to lack of evidence proving a allegation. Standards of of proof vary in civil and criminal cases. In civil cases, the standard of proof is "more likely so than not" whereas in a criminal matter, the standard is "beyond a reasonable doubt" If your opponent lacks incontrovertible proof (evidence) of their allegation, you can "plausibly deny" the allegation even though it may be true.

Because many lawyers are in politics, they brought this lower standard of ethics and integrity with them. This is why they rarely put anything controversial in writing. This is also why they most often have you talk to an underling or an agency bureaucrat so they can plausibly deny knowledge of the conversation or be able to say the underling or bureaucrat misstated their position.
Before the blue, stained dress was found, Bill Clinton's position was plausible deniability with regards to having sex with that woman.
http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=plausible%20deniability